Translating climate change effects on species into everyday language: an example of more driving and less fishing

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Climate change is expected to result in widespread changes in species distributions (e.g., shifting, shrinking, expanding species ranges; e.g., Parmesan and Yohe, 2003), especially for freshwater fish species (Heino et al. 2009). Although anglers and other resource users could be greatly affected by changes in species distributions, predicted changes are rarely reported in ways that can be easily understood by the general public. In contrast, climate science that more directly affects human welfare or livelihoods is often more readily communicated to the general public because it is of greater concern or closely related to everyday life. For example, most people can readily interpret how increases in the number of “hot” days above a given temperature threshold might affect their lives, and property owners in coastal areas can use predictive maps to determine how they might be affected by sea level rise (for more examples, see the Third National Assessment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at However, the effects of climate change on species are usually reported to the general public using summary metrics or maps designed to communicate concepts that are not normally encountered in everyday life, including changes in habitat suitability, range shifts, or increasing risks from disease or extreme events (e.g., National Audubon Society 2009; Groffman et al. 2014). Though these metrics are necessary, meaningful, and understood by scientists, many people lack the necessary training and background to readily understand them. Further, scientists and nonscientists alike may struggle to convert these metrics into a currency that directly affects day-to-day life.
Climate science is a complex issue, and we argue that when communicating potential responses of vegetation, fish, and wildlife to nonscientists, creative thinking with respect to the currency of communication will facilitate discussions between scientists, policy makers, and the public. We posit that with some additional thought and relatively simple summaries, the responses of fish and other species to climate change can be translated into everyday language that will facilitate climate science communication. Although such translations are rare, one example of this type of creativity is the translation from changes in habitat suitability for tree species to potential reductions in maple syrup production (West over 2012), which is arguably more interesting and understandable for the general public. Similar translations could be especially important for communicating climate change effects on game fish and other species that are socially and economically important to large groups of people. We demonstrate this translation by communicating the potential effects of climate change on the distribution of a coldwater fish species, the eastern Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis. Rather than communicating the potential forecasted contraction of the Brook Trout's distribution in terms of habitat loss, we report the predicted increases in the driving distance to streams likely offering Brook Trout angling opportunities under a climate change scenario. Travel costs based on distance have been widely used to value ecosystem services such as angling under climate change scenarios (e.g., Pendleton and Mendelsohn 1998; Mendelsohn and Markowski 1999; Ahn et al. 2000) but, to the best of our knowledge, have not been used for communicating potential changes to the public despite the intrinsic link to everyday life.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Translating climate change effects on species into everyday language: an example of more driving and less fishing
Series title Fisheries
DOI 10.1080/03632415.2015.1065252
Volume 40
Issue 8
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Taylor & Francis
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Leetown
Description 3 p.
First page 395
Last page 398
Country United States
State New York, Pennsylvania
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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