“Climate refugia and corridors are important components for long-term conservation success. That is why it is startling to see that the nation’s protected areas and priority conservation objectives fail to represent more than 55 percent of these crucial lands.”

Lindsay Rosa, Center for Conservation Innovation Director for Defenders of Wildlife
Washington, DC

A new study, published in Environmental Research Letters, shows that conservation – particularly efforts to protect 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030 – should also focus on areas that can help wildlife better adapt in the face of climate change. This new research comes at at time when nearly half of all North American species are threatened by climate-related extinction in at least part of their habitat.

The study, authored by Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) director Dr. Lindsay Rosa, Mae Lacy, conservation GIS analyst, Ted Weber, climate adaptation policy analyst, Aimee Delach, senior climate adaptation policy analyst, Talia Neiderman, staff scientist and former CCI director Dr. Jacob Malcom found that if conservation efforts only continue to focus on existing biodiversity hotspots and carbon-rich areas, other climate-resilient habitats that are critical to conserving America’s wildlife will not be adequately protected.

“Climate refugia  and corridors are important components for long-term conservation success,” said Dr. Lindsay Rosa, director for Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation and the study’s lead author. “That is why it is startling to see that the nation’s protected areas and priority conservation objectives fail to represent more than 55 percent of these crucial lands.”

Climate refugia are areas that are less affected by environmental changes that can provide protection for wildlife and plants. Refugia can be connected together by wildlife corridors that enable animals to migrate to more suitable habitat.

Defenders’ researchers identified portions of the Rocky Mountain range, the Chihuahuan and Mojave deserts and the Great Plains as areas that don’t draw conservation focus now but should be for future-minded conservation plans. 

“Given the scope of what is needed to protect imperiled species, efforts to protect our nation’s biodiversity must have buy-in from all levels of government as well as private landowners and Tribal nations,” said Rosa. “Thankfully, our work demonstrates that there are still plenty of opportunities for decisionmakers who are interested in working together to take a future-minded approach to conservation.”

The study also highlighted an increasing need for research into aquatic refugia. Cold-water aquatic organisms are among the most vulnerable to climate change, and right now there is not a national data set to guide conservation efforts, especially freshwater refugia. 


For over 75 years, Defenders of Wildlife has remained dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. To learn more, please visit https://defenders.org/newsroom or follow us on X @Defenders.


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