Oregon is a key study area because of its great diversity of habitats: rain forests, high deserts, alpine areas, fens, bogs, lakes, rivers and rich estuaries.
Steve Buttrick stands at his desk, surrounded by brightly-colored maps and stacks of raw data, clutching a coffee mug in need of a refill.
“Oregon has a lot to gain through active conservation and a lot to lose by not considering climate change in our conservation planning.”
Buttrick has applied his expertise in conservation science and biodiversity to his work with The Nature Conservancy for more than 30 years, but his current project may prove to be the most impactful.
“The challenges associated with climate change are huge and becoming more immediate,” he says. “This requires a sea-change in thinking and strategy. Effective protection and management can’t just rely on where a species is today. We need to figure out where conditions will be right for it in the future.”
This type of work is referred to as ‘Conserving the Stage.’ Changes in temperature and precipitation patterns will force many species to relocate in an effort to adapt.
Using complex data sets, Buttrick and his team first identify all of the “stages” species currently occupy. By examining the unique combinations of soils, elevation, slope, and more, they are then able to identify the most “resilient landscapes,” or the places that will be needed to give the most species the best chance for survival in the future.
“Sites with a greater diversity of microclimates, or ranges of moisture and temperature, are resilient because they provide more areas that organisms are likely to find acceptable,” Buttrick explains. “So, combining microclimate diversity with a landscape that allows species movement provides a metric that can be used to assess a site’s resilience.”
Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in general is a key study area because of its great diversity of habitats: rain forests, high deserts, alpine areas, fens, bogs, lakes, rivers and rich estuaries. In Oregon, these habitats support 3,773 species of native vascular plants and vertebrates, placing Oregon 8th among all other states in biodiversity. Ten percent of these species are considered at risk.
Using this knowledge, The Nature Conservancy in Oregon has revised its portfolio of conservation areas across 23 million acres in the southeast corner of the state to ensure priority conservation sites not only contain a diversity of species and habitats, but are also located reflect the most resilient landscapes.
With generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Trust, the work being done by Buttrick and other scientists within The Nature Conservancy is helping identify the places needed to protect as much of Oregon’s current biodiversity as possible and to support additional species that will relocate to Oregon in the future.