The authors said that the vulnerability map will help governments, environmental agencies, and donors identify areas where to best invest in protected area establishment, restoration efforts, and other conservation activities so as to have the biggest return on investment in saving ecosystems and the services they provide to wildlife and people alike.
The authors include: Dr James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland; Dr Takuya Iwamura of Stanford University; and Nathalie Butt of the University of Queensland.
"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. The fact is there is only limited funds out there and we need to start to be clever in our investments in adaptation strategies around the world," Dr. James Watson, Director of WCS's Climate Change Program and lead author of the Nature study, said.
"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," he said.
The researchers argue that almost all climate change assessments to date are incomplete in that they assess how future climate change is going to impact landscapes and seascapes, without considering the fact that most of these landscapes have modified by human activities in different ways, making them more or less susceptible to climate change.
A vulnerability map produced in the study examines the relationship of two metrics: how intact an ecosystem is, and how stable the ecosystem is going to be under predictions of future climate change.
The analysis creates a rating system with four general categories for the world's terrestrial regions, with management recommendations determined by the combination of factors.
Ecosystems with highly intact vegetation and high relative climate stability, for instance, are the best locations for future protected areas, as these have the best chance of retaining species.
In contrast, ecosystems with low levels of vegetation and high relative climate stability could merit efforts at habitat restoration.
Ecosystems with low levels of vegetation intactness and low climate stability would be most at risk and would require significant levels of investment to achieve conservation outcomes.
The study is published online in the journal Nature Climate Change.