California’s Climate Refugia: Mapping the Stable Places

By UC Davis

Which Lands Stand the Best Chance for Conservation and Wildfire Restoration?

Douglas fir and mixed conifer line the Trinity River in California. Such forest types are expected to persist under future climate conditions in Northern California. (Getty)

Some landscapes can hold their own against climate change better than others. A study from the University of California, Davis, maps these places, called “climate refugia,” where existing vegetation is most likely to buffer the impacts of climate change through the end of the century.

It found that about 15 percent of natural lands in California serve as climate refugia for the state’s plants, including trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials. The mapping tool can help natural resource managers prioritize and plan climate-adaptive management efforts, such as wildlife habitat conservation and post-wildfire restoration.

The study is published in a special issue of the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution devoted to the theme of climate refugia. The issue and an accompanying website,, include other refugia related to fish and wildlife, rivers and wetlands, mountains and forests.

As climate change intensifies, identifying and mapping areas of relative stability — what the journal calls the “slow lane” for climate change — marks a path toward conserving them and the habitat and services they provide to wildlife and humans.

“This paper shows that there are places where, if you retain what’s standing there now, it would have a better chance of remaining for a longer period of time — like a century — under wetter and drier conditions,” said lead author James Thorne, a research scientist with the UC Davis Department of Environmental Science and Policy. 

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Read the study in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment: