As climate change poses new risks to the world's ecosystems and economies, how will governments and organizations know where to direct their limited resources? A new map might help provide some of the answers. The map, published Sept. 15 in the journal Nature Climate Change (and appearing above), identifies the ecosystems that are both most vulnerable and least vulnerable in a warming world.

The map and accompanying study use data from ecosystems around the world combined with models and predications regarding the effects of climate change. It was developed by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the University of Queensland in Australia, and Stanford University. Data included how intact ecosystems currently are and how stable they will be in the future based on climate projections.

The study's authors say that not every part of the planet will require the same amount of effort to adapt to climate change, so the map can help decision makers direct their attention to the most vulnerable areas. "We need to realize that climate change is going to impact ecosystems both directly and indirectly in a variety of ways and we can't keep on assuming that all adaptation actions are suitable everywhere," lead author James Watson, director of WCS's Climate Change Program, said in a press release. "The analysis and map in this study is a means of bringing clarity to complicated decisions on where limited resources will do the most good."

So what are the areas in the most risk? According to the study, southern and southeastern Asia, western and central Europe, eastern South Africa and southern Australia will face the greatest threats. Meanwhile, the areas with the least vulnerability include north and southwestern Africa, northern Australia, and southern South America.

The authors say this map and study can be used to identify the areas that will require the most attention in the near future. For example, ecosystems that currently have high levels of vegetation but do not face high risk of climate variability could be the best sites to set aside as protected areas, since the species living there may have the best chance at survival. Meanwhile, ecosystems that currently have low levels of vegetation but don't face much climate-change risk could be selected for habitat restoration efforts.

"Effective conservation strategies must anticipate not only how species and habitats will cope with future climate change, but how humans will respond to these challenges," said John Robinson, WCS executive vice president for conservation and science, who was not one of the authors of the study. "To that end, maintaining the integrity of the world’s ecosystems will be the most important means of safeguarding the natural world and our own future."

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New map identifies ecosystems most vulnerable to climate change
Southern Asia, western Europe and southern Australia are among the areas at most risk.