Vulnerabilities of national parks in the American Midwest to climate and land use changes


Publication Year: 



Many national parks in the American Midwest are surrounded by agricultural or urban areas or are in highly fragmented or rapidly changing landscapes. An environmental stressor is a physical, chemical, or biological condition that affects the functioning or productivity of species or ecosystems. Climate change is just one of many stressors on park natural resources; others include urbanization, land use change, air and water pollution, and so on. Understanding and comparing the relative vulnerability of a suite of parks to projected climate and land use changes is important for region-wide planning. A vulnerability assessment of 60 units in the 13-state U.S. National Park Service Midwestern administrative region to climate and land use change used existing data from multiple sources. Assessment included three components: individual park exposure (5 metrics), sensitivity (5 metrics), and constraints to adaptive capacity (8 metrics) under 2 future climate scenarios. The three components were combined into an overall vulnerability score. Metrics were measures of existing or projected conditions within park boundaries, within 10-kilometer buffers surrounding parks, and within ecoregions that contain or intersect them. Data were normalized within the range of values for all assessed parks, resulting in high, medium, and low relative rankings for exposure, sensitivity, constraints to adaptive capacity, and overall vulnerability. Results are consistent with assessments regarding patterns and rates of climate change nationwide but provide greater detail and relative risk for Midwestern parks. Park overall relative vulnerability did not differ between climate scenarios. Rankings for exposure, sensitivity, and constraints to adaptive capacity varied geographically and indicate regional conservation planning opportunities. The most important stressors for the most vulnerable Midwestern parks are those related to sensitivity (intrinsic characteristics of the park) and constraints on adaptive capacity (characteristics of the surrounding landscape) rather than exposure to external forces, including climate change. Output will allow individual park managers to understand which metrics weigh most heavily in the overall vulnerability of their park and can be used for region-wide responses and resource allocation for adaptation efforts.

Document Type: 

  • Report


  • critical issues, database publication, climate, land use, united states