In this work we assessed the vulnerability of herptile species to future climate and land use changes in fragmented landscapes. We developed and tested a methodological approach combining the strengths of Species Distribution Models (SDMs) and of functional connectivity analysis. [open to see the full abstract]
Environmental changes are driving rapid geographic shifts of suitable environmental conditions for species. These might survive by tracking those shifts, however successful responses will depend on the spatial distribution of suitable habitats (current and future) and on their connectivity. Most herptiles (i.e., amphibians and reptiles) have low dispersal abilities, and therefore herptiles are among the most vulnerable groups to environmental changes. Here we assessed the vulnerability of herptile species to future climate and land use changes in fragmented landscapes. We developed and tested a methodological approach combining the strengths of Species Distribution Models (SDMs) and of functional connectivity analysis. First, using SDMs we forecasted current and future distributions of potential suitable areas as well as range dynamics for four herptile species in Portugal. SDM forecasts for 2050 were obtained under two contrasting emission scenarios, translated into moderate (low-emissions scenario) or large (high-emissions scenario) changes in climate and land use conditions. Then, we calculated and analysed functional connectivity from areas projected to lose environmental suitability towards areas keeping suitable conditions. Landscape matrix resistance and barrier effects of the national motorway network were incorporated as the main sources of fragmentation. Potential suitable area was projected to decrease under future conditions for most test species, with the high-emissions scenario amplifying the losses or gains. Spatiotemporal patterns of connectivity between potentially suitable areas signalled the most important locations for maintaining linkages and migration corridors, as well as potential conflicts due to overlaps with the current motorway network. By integrating SDM projections with functional connectivity analysis, we were able to assess and map the vulnerability of distinct herptile species to isolation or extinction under environmental change scenarios. Our framework provides valuable information, with fairly low data requirements, for optimizing biodiversity management and mitigation efforts, aiming to reduce the complex and often synergistic negative impacts of multiple environmental change drivers. Implications for conservation planning and management are discussed from a global change adaptation perspective.