Achieving conservation targets by jointly addressing climate change and biodiversity loss

Justin P. Suraci, Laura S. Farwell, Caitlin E. Littlefield, Patrick T. Freeman, Luke J. Zachmann, Vincent A. Landau, Jesse J. Anderson, Brett G. Dickson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Unprecedented rates of climate change and biodiversity loss have galvanized efforts to expand protected areas (PAs) globally. However, limited spatial overlap between the most important landscapes for mitigating climate change and those with the highest value for biodiversity may impede efforts to simultaneously address both issues through new protections. At the same time, there is a need to understand how lands with high conservation value align with existing patterns of land management, both public and private, which will inform strategies for developing new conservation areas. To address these challenges, we developed three composite indices to identify the highest conservation value lands across the conterminous United States (CONUS) and Alaska, drawing on a suite of key ecological and environmental indicators. Two indices characterize the most important conservation lands for addressing climate change (based on climate accessibility, climate stability, and total carbon storage) and biodiversity (based on species richness, ecological integrity, and ecological connectivity), while a third, combined index simultaneously addresses both conservation challenges. We found that existing PAs in the United States have relatively low overlap with the highest conservation value lands, regardless of the index used (10%–13% in CONUS, 27%–34% in Alaska), suggesting limited effectiveness of current protections but substantial opportunity for expanding conservation into high-value, unprotected areas. In unprotected landscapes, the highest value lands for addressing climate change generally diverged from those identified as most important for protecting biodiversity (22%–38% overlap, depending on index and geography). Our combined index reconciled these spatial trade-offs through high overlap with both the climate and biodiversity indices (66%–72%). Of the unprotected high conservation value lands identified by each of our three indices, we found ≥70% are privately managed in CONUS, while 16%–27% are privately managed in Alaska, underscoring the need to engage private landowners and land trusts in efforts to substantially increase the total footprint of conservation lands in the United States. Our findings highlight the importance of balancing climate and biodiversity objectives when identifying new lands for conservation and provide guidance on where to target new protections to simultaneously address both goals. To facilitate planning using the indices, we developed an interactive web application.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4490
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • 30 × 30
  • composite indices
  • connectivity
  • conservation planning
  • landscape ecology
  • protected areas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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