8. Reducing impacts of climate change on biodiversity using adaptive management

Reducing impacts of climate change on biodiversity using adaptive management
Lead Author: Cater Ingram (WCS)
Contributors: Robert Munroe (BirdLife), Nicky Jenner (FFI) and James Watson (WCS)

Climate change will impact biodiversity in a myriad of ways.  Some species will flourish under climatic conditions which they find more favourable.  However, as the rate of warming predicted has not been experienced for millions of years, many species will find the physiological stress associated with temperature and precipitation changes too great, and will be unable to adapt (Pimm 2009).  Many changes will occur indirectly, resulting from climatic impacts on key ecological processes, including the frequency and intensity of fire events, predator-prey interactions, water flow, and nutrient cycling.  Anthropogenic stresses such as habitat loss and fragmentation, and the introduction of invasive species will interact with, and in some cases exacerbate, the impacts of climate change.

For biodiversity conservation to be effective in the long-term, it is critical that practices address new climatic conditions, and that efforts to reduce non-climatic stresses continue, to enable species and the ecological processes upon which they depend to adapt where possible. With this aim in view, several good general principles include: protecting or restoring ecological and evolutionary connectivity, reducing other stresses (feral populations, pollution, habitat loss etc.), increasing the size and number of protected areas, managing the matrices between protected areas, and pro-actively protecting large, intact landscapes and seascapes (Heller and Zavaleta 2009; Mackey et al. 2010; Watson et al. 2010).

The impacts of climate change can vary at the regional and even local scale (e.g. Trivedi et al. 2008), so in identifying relevant adaptation strategies, detailed climate change predictions specific to areas of conservation importance, and of species’ likely responses, are needed. Several tools are now available to facilitate this process.

Tools providing fine-scale predictions of climate change impacts include Climate Wizard from The Nature Conservancy. Details of this and others are given below. Predictions at a regional scale are available from the IPCC (Christensen et al. 2007) as well as World Clim (see Chapter 4).  In addition to fine-scale climate change predictions, it is important to have good information on the species, and ecological functions present in the area, to assess the vulnerability of its biodiversity. The IUCN is producing tools to guide vulnerability assessments of a range of species; helpful for identifying how they might be affected by climate change (see below).

Integrating climate change adaptation plans into more general conservation planning is still in its infancy, however a number of tools have been developed recently to support this process (e.g. Groves et al. 2010).

All these tools follow a similar framework:

  1. Identify biological features targeted for conservation (species, ecological processes, ecosystems) and gather explicit, measurable, management objectives for each;
  2. Build a conceptual model to illustrate the climatic, ecological, social/economic drivers affecting each feature; examine how the feature and its drivers may be affected by multiple plausible climate change scenarios;
  3. Identify intervention points and potential actions to achieve objectives for each feature under each scenario;
  4. Evaluate feasibility of, and trade-offs among, potential actions;
  5. Develop and implement an action plan;
  6. Monitors the efficacy of actions and progress toward objectives, to identify the need to revisit planning and address ineffective actions.

Examples of actions for (5.) include: Identifying and strengthening key protected areas that are resilient to climate change; identifying bottlenecks; managing protected area networks to enhance landscape permeability for migratory, nomadic or wide-ranging species and those with shifting ranges, encourage more environmentally sympathetic management of the wider landscape.

Species relocation, assisted migration, captive breeding, and germplasmstorage can be important conservation activities. However, such measures are often expensive, less effective than in situ actions, only feasible on small scales, or rarely maintain vital ecosystem functions and services.

Policy responses for reducing the negative impacts of climate change on biodiversity include:

  • Encourage a shift away from static targets for biodiversity conservation
  • Ensure  climate change adaptation activities are integrated across as many sectors/ministries as possible, avoiding conflicting targets
  • Incorporate climate change predictions and vulnerability assessments into national and local Protected Area policy and land-use  management policies
  • Create natural resource policies that address the interconnected impacts of  climate change across separate ministries (forestry, water, fisheries, and wildlife, for example)
  • Incorporate adaptation into National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), ensure that vulnerable ecosystems are addressed in National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and that these plans are integrated into other policies
  • Ensure that impacts are understood in terms of ecosystem services losses, and incorporated into National Poverty Reduction Strategies

Case Studies

Coral reef conservation in the face of climate change: Coral ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.  These rich marine ecosystems are important not just for biodiversity but for the many people who depend upon them economically and socially. With examples from the western Indian Ocean, this article sets out a framework for identifying and investigating strategies for responding to climate change whilst minimising risks to reefs and safeguarding local stakeholders’ livelihoods. By considering both environmental susceptibility and social adaptive capacity, responses tailored to local conditions are possible (McClanahan et al. 2008).

Key questions:

  1. How do the actions and policies needed to protect biodiversity in the face of climate change vary from those used to address other types of threat?
  2. How do you prioritize actions and policies for conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change when there are many dimensions of biodiversity and these may respond differently to change?
  3. How might policies and management plans be integrated to minimize the negative impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services?


Key tools:

Climate Wizard - Easily-accessible interactive map resource to help visualise climate change impacts anywhere on Earth.

IUCN Work on Species and Climate ChangeSummary of the IUCN’s work on species and climate change, including links to more detailed documents, including Species susceptibility to climate change impacts (Foden et al. 2008), as well as fact sheets on the likely effects of climate change on 11 flagship species.

Climate Change and Conservation: A Primer for Assessing Impacts and Advancing Ecosystem‐based Adaptation - An introduction to climate impacts and ecosystem‐based adaptation, including new conservation planning approaches, tools and resources to assist in impact analyses and strategy identification.

Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation - CBD technical series report on biodiversity and climate change. Excellent source of information on climate impacts and interactions, adaptation, as well as tools for impact, risk and vulnerability assessments.

See also Key tools in chapter 9

Key references:

Christensen, J.H., B. Hewitson, A. Busuioc, A. Chen, X. Gao, I. Held, R. Jones, R.K. Kolli, W.-T. Kwon, R. Laprise, V. Magaña Rueda, L. Mearns, C.G. Menéndez, J. Räisänen, A. Rinke, A. Sarr and P. Whetton, 2007: Regional Climate Projections.  In: Climate Change 2007: The  Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Foden, W., Mace, G., Vié, J.-C., Angulo, A., Butchart, S., DeVantier, L., Dublin, H., Gutsche, A., Stuart, S. and Turak, E. 2008. Species susceptibility to climate change impacts. In: J.-C. Vié, C. Hilton-Taylor and S.N. Stuart (eds). The 2008 Review of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN Gland, Switzerland.

Groves, C., Anderson, M., Enquist,C., Girvetz, E., Sandwith, T., Schwarz, L. and Shaw, R., 2010. Climate Change and Conservation: A Primer for Assessing Impacts and Advancing Ecosystem-based Adaptation in The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA, USA.

Heller, N.E. and Zavaleta, E.S., 2009. Biodiversity management in the face of climate change: A review of 22 years of recommendations. Biological Conservation, 142, pp.14-32.

Mackey, B.G., Watson, J.E.M., Hope, G. and Gilmore, S., 2008. Climate change, biodiversity conservation, and the role of protected areas: an Australian perspective. Biodiversity, 9, pp.11-19.

McClanahan, T.R., Cinner, J.E., Maina, J., Graham, N.A.J., Daw, T.M., Stead, S.M., Wamukota, A., Brown, K., Ateweberhan, M., Venus, V., and Polunin, N.V.C., 2008. Conservation action in a changing climate. Conservation Letters, 1, pp.53-59.

Pimm, S.L., 2009. Climate Disruption and Biodiversity. Current Biology, 19(14) pp.R595-R601.

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2009). Connecting Biodiversity and Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: Report of the Second Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change. Montreal, Technical Series No. 41, 126 pages.

The Nature Conservancy, 2009. Climate Wizard. [online] Available at: http://www.climatewizard.org/ [Accessed 23 January 2012]

Trivedi, M.R., Berry, P.M., Morecroft, M.D. and Dawson, T.P, 2008. Spatial scale affects bioclimate model projections of climate change impacts on mountain plants. Global Change Biology, 14 (5). pp.1089-1103.

Watson, James E. M., Fuller, Richard A., Watson, Alexander W. T., Mackey, Brendan G., Wilson, Kerrie A., Grantham, Hedley S., Turner, Matthew, Klein, Carissa J., Carwardine, Josie, Joseph, Liana N. and Possingham, Hugh P., 2009. Wilderness and future conservation priorities in Australia. Diversity and Distributions, 15 (6), pp.1028-1036.

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