National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2020

Trait-based climate vulnerability assessments in data-rich systems: an application to eastern Bering Sea fish and invertebrate stocks

Spencer, P.D., A.B. Hollowed, M.F. Sigler, A.J. Hermann, and M.W. Nelson

Global Change Biol., 25(11), 3954-3971, doi: 10.1111/gcb.14763, View online (2019)

Trait‐based climate vulnerability assessments based on expert evaluation have emerged as a rapid tool to assess biological vulnerability when detailed correlative or mechanistic studies are not feasible. Trait‐based assessments typically view vulnerability as a combination of sensitivity and exposure to climate change. However, in some locations, a substantial amount of information may exist on system productivity and environmental conditions (both current and projected), with potential disparities in the information available for data‐rich and data‐poor stocks. Incorporating this level of detailed information poses challenges when conducting, and communicating uncertainty from, rapid vulnerability assessments. We applied a trait‐based vulnerability assessment to 36 fish and invertebrate stocks in the eastern Bering Sea (EBS), a data‐rich ecosystem. In recent years, the living marine resources of the EBS and Aleutian Islands have supported fisheries worth more than US $1 billion of annual ex‐vessel value. Our vulnerability assessment uses projections (to 2039) from three downscaled climate models, and graphically characterizes the variation in climate projections between climate models and between seasons. Bootstrapping was used to characterize uncertainty in specific biological traits and environmental variables, and in the scores for sensitivity, exposure, and vulnerability. The sensitivity of EBS stocks to climate change ranged from “low” to “high,” but vulnerability ranged between “low” and “moderate” due to limited exposure to climate change. Comparison with more detailed studies reveals that water temperature is an important variable for projecting climate impacts on stocks such as walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus), and sensitivity analyses revealed that modifying the rule for determining vulnerability increased the vulnerability scores. This study demonstrates the importance of considering several uncertainties (e.g., climate projections, biological, and model structure) when conducting climate vulnerability assessments, and can be extended in future research to consider the vulnerability of user groups dependent on these stocks.

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