Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Change on the Vegetation of California

The PIER (California’s Public Interest Energy Research Program; ecosystem modeling project, led by Conservation International, is a species-focused approach to assessing the impacts of climate change on the biodiversity of California. It is part of a broader effort of the Nature Conservancy/Conservation International Joint Initiative on Climate Change and Conservation to understand the impacts of climate change on ecosystems in California and the Sonoran Desert. Project researchers are using niche models, a landscape model called BioMove and fine-scale models to estimate changes in species potential and realized niches under climate change scenarios. The newest of these multiple modeling approaches, the BioMove model, is currently under development by an international team of researchers based in South Africa.
BioMove is a unique model of species' response to climate change that will specifically address impacts on biodiversity. The Global Change and Biodiversity Programme of the Kirstenbosch Research Centre (South African National Biodiversity Institute - SANBI) has produced this prototype model for assessment of climate change effects on biodiversity hotspots, areas with high numbers of unique species and high levels of threat, such as California. BioMove represents individual species' responses to climate change in concert with vegetation and land use factors. It has proved valuable in helping to understand the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems in two biodiversity hotspots in South Africa.
The PIER project aims to improve BioMove and to use it in conjunction with other models, both at coarser (niche, DGVM) and finer (GAP, FATE) scales. This model ensemble approach will be applied to endemic plants and plants of conservation interest in California, which is also a biodiversity hotspot. Because BioMove is based on basic biological principles, it may be readily applied to any ecosystem, including California's. Because it was designed to work in biodiversity hotspots, it is uniquely suited to biodiversity impact assessment in California's highly threatened and unique ecosystems. The data required to run the model are available in California.
Project Goal
The goal of the project is model development of BioMove to a fully operational, fully tested and parameterized model for impact prediction in 6 target ecosystems in California, and running BioMove in multi-model ensembles at varying scales. The application of BioMove is focused on 4 ecoregions- the Mojave Desert, the South and Central Coast regions, and the Sierra Nevada, and a variety of vegetation types within them - to make the data gathering required possible within the timeframe of this three-year program. The end product of the project will be model code and a user's manual, coupled with databases of input parameters suitable for the full application of the model in a desktop computing format. The completed model will have important theoretical and research applications in addition to its primary application in impact prediction. Running it in tandem with other types of models (niche, GAP, dynamic vegetation) will yield additional insights into factors operating at both larger and smaller scales. The end product of the ensemble modeling of the project will be advanced impact assessment of the effects of climate change on the vegetation of California.

Project Team
The international team brought together to achieve this goal includes California gap analysis leader Frank Davis (UC Santa Barbara), Ornithologist Terry Root (Stanford), Dynamic Global Vegetation Model (DGVM) innovator Ian Woodward, of the University of Sheffield in the UK, gap model pioneer Hank Shugart of the University of Virginia, international experts in hybrid model development, including BioMove developer Guy Midgley of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, and biogeographer Jim Thorne (UC Davis). The team is led by the Principle Investigator, Dr. Lee Hannah, a global authority on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity hotspots, and a specialist in modeling climate change impacts on species. The lead institutions are the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS), which is the research science arm of Conservation International, a non-profit biodiversity conservation organization; and the South African National Biodiversity Institute.
Project Objectives
To achieve the project goal, the project will pursue three major objectives:
1) model development of BioMove to a create a complete hybrid modeling package capable of simulating both species and vegetation responses, and their interaction, in multiple California vegetation (ecosystem) types.
2) model parameterization for 4 ecoregions (at least 6 vegetation types) in California, including plant-vertebrate interactions for key species.
3) multi-model ensembles at multiple scales, including niche modeling of select species statewide and GAP modeling of competition at select locales.
This project is the first step in a joint attempt by Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy to understand the possible effects of climate change on biodiversity in California and the Sonoran Desert of Mexico. We plan to work closely with Craig Moritz at UC Berkeley, Terry Root at Stanford and Frank Davis of UCSB. Project management is based at the Bren School at UCSB. Managing PI for the project is Lee Hannah of Conservation International, based at UCSB.


Frank W. Davis


Lee Hannah

Funding Agency: 

California Energy Commission

Project Period: 

March, 2007 to March, 2012