System for Assessing Vulnerability of Species (SAVS) Climate Change Tool

Ecologists and biologists from the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) developed a System for Assessing Vulnerability of Species (SAVS) to climate change as a tool for natural resource and wildlife managers to quantify the impacts of expected climate change on terrestrial vertebrates and inform species conservation and management planning. The SAVS climate change tool ranks species in the order of their relative vulnerability or resilience based on species data and expected changes in temperature, precipitation, and vegetation.

The SAVS tool is a predictive scoring questionnaire organized into four categories (habitat, physiology, phenology, and biotic interactions) and composed of 22 questions related to the expected response or vulnerability of a species to climate change. This tool is designed to be flexible to incorporate new information from published materials, personal knowledge, and expert consultation.

Examples of some questions in the tool:

  • What is the potential for this species to disperse?
  • Are disturbance events (e.g., severe storms, fires, floods) that affect survival or reproduction expected to change?
  • Does this species use temperature or moisture cues to initiate activities related to fecundity or survival (e.g., hibernation, migration, breeding)?
  • Are important predator populations for this species expected to change?

The cumulative score (ranging from -20 to +20) derived from the tool represents the species’ relative response to projected climate change in the target region, with negative scores indicating resilience and positive scores indicating vulnerability. Overall scores can be used to:

  • rank the vulnerability of various species and, thus, inform prioritization, planning for climate change, and management actions;
  • aid landscape-scale vulnerability assessments for a single species across various locations and climate projections; and
  • initiate dialogue on climate change as it relates to species management.

The tool’s overview website links to some RMRS case studies previously conducted using SAVS and suggests that users review these in order to familiarize themselves with the scoring process and how management options were identified based on the scoring results. The SAVS climate change tool can generate unexpected findings, such as in the case study of riparian terrestrial vertebrates in the Middle Rio Grande, New Mexico where not only rare, but also relatively common species were found to have some of the highest vulnerability to climatic threats.

The general website also links to the General Technical Report A System for Assessing Species Vulnerability (SAVS) to Climate Change which provides guidance on the application of the SAVS tool, including scoring species, interpreting scores, and utilizing scores in management. The document also includes a user guide which provides a discussion for each of the 22 criteria of the questionnaire.


Publication Date: 2011

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  • Assessment
  • Tool (general)

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