Report Outlines Climate Change Effects on New Mexico

"Implications of Recent Climate Change on Conservation Priorities in New Mexico" provides a new perspective and information for planning and management in the state, according to the New Mexico office of The Nature Conservancy.

The report, written by Carolyn Enquist, Ph.D., and Dave Gori, Ph.D., identifies the potential vulnerability of habitat types, priority landscapes for conservation and species to climate change. This information should enable conservation practitioners and resource managers to make better-informed decisions and to take action in the near term.

"The report is based on solid science," said Terry Sullivan, New Mexico state director of The Nature Conservancy. "It establishes without question that climate change is having an effect on the plants, animals, and landscapes of New Mexico right now and that it has been for at least the last 15 years."

Climate change is likely to exacerbate the effects of natural processes such as wildfire, insect outbreaks, flooding, and erosion across all New Mexico's habitat types. It may also prompt abrupt ecological changes. This is particularly true in ecosystems such as grasslands, riparian areas, and forests, where the effects of past management and land use change are substantial.

Key findings include:

•More than 95 percent of the state has experienced mean temperature increases; warming has been greatest in the southwestern, central, and northwestern parts of the state, especially in the Jemez Mountains. While no change or slight cooling has occurred in parts of several mountainous habitats surrounding the Gila River headwaters, the Zuni Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, other parts of these ranges have experienced increasing trends in either minimum or maximum temperatures from 1970-2006.

•Precipitation changes have been more variable than temperature, with 54 percent of the state tending toward wetter conditions, 41 percent drier conditions and 5 percent showing no discernable change in precipitation between 1991 and 2005 compared to a 30-year baseline (1961-1990).

•Most of the mid- to high-elevation forests and woodlands have experienced consistently warmer and drier conditions or greater variability in temperature and precipitation from 1991 to 2005. Three areas may be particularly vulnerable: the southwestern corner of the state (the "bootheel"), the Jemez Mountains and the southern Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

•In contrast, a series of lower-elevation landscapes that are also rich in drought-sensitive species experienced lower climate exposure (i.e., smaller increases in temperature coupled with smaller changes in precipitation).

Increased research and monitoring of these conservation priorities will be critical to documenting ecological responses to climate change at local and regional levels so that conservation practitioners and resource managers can incorporate this information into their planning and management processes.

This report is the first of three studies that will strengthen the current understanding of the vulnerability of native species and ecosystems to ongoing climate change. The second report, focused on the watersheds of New Mexico, is scheduled for release in July 2008. The final report, which will include future climate projections for the state, is due out in early fall 2008.

The Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) on behalf of the Doris Duke Foundation provided financial support for the report.

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