17 May 2019

As the climate changes, where should we put our nature reserves?

Welcome to our science showcase, where we talk to a BirdLife scientist about their recent work. This time, Dr Claudia Hermes from our Red List team talks about a new climate change toolkit which has won this year’s BioOne Ambassador Award.

Ecuador's cloud forests are among the most rapidly deforested habitats in the world © Claudia Hermes
Ecuador's cloud forests are among the most rapidly deforested habitats in the world © Claudia Hermes
By Jessica Law

1. What does your toolkit do?

Our toolkit helps to predict where a species might move to in future years due to climate change. If the projected future range does not contain an adequate habitat for the species, it allows conservationists time to restore or reforest so it’s ready for the species’ eventual arrival. In this way, it can work as a ‘missing link’ between theoretical species distribution models, and the practical work of local conservation groups in the field.

2. Why do we need it?

Species are already beginning to move their ranges in response to climate change. In tropical mountains, for example, some species are shifting their range uphill by more than 100 metres a decade. In areas like this, where deforestation is high, the toolkit is especially important when planning a protected area. You might set up a nice reserve to protect a species, and in five years’ time the species may no longer live there.

3. How did you get the idea?

My PhD thesis focused on planning an ecological corridor to protect the Ecuadorian Tapaculo Scytalopus robbinsi (Endangered). However, I found that this species was living 200 metres higher than it had in 1990. I realised that it didn’t make sense to plan the corridor in a static way. So I used climate change model of the area to predict shifts in the bird’s range and map them onto the landscape.

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4. Has your toolkit already helped to protect species?

Yes – the ecological corridor is now underway, and will reconnect the cloud forests that span from Peru to Ecuador to Colombia. In addition to  protecting the Ecuadorian Tapaculo, the toolkit has been used to map the most important areas for the conservation of other Endangered endemic species such as the El Oro Parakeet Pyrrhura orcesi.

5. How will it benefit conservationists in years to come?

The toolkit is extremely easy to use in the field and is particularly suited to small organisations, as it does not require any complex skills apart from satellite mapping. It can be adapted to any location or habitat type, and you don’t even have to download a program: it’s just a set of clear instructions. All you need to do is to make sure that you already have good field data on habitat quality, as the satellite map alone won’t tell you whether the habitat is good or bad for your focal species.

The toolkit was used to plan protected areas for the El Oro Parakeet (Endangered) © Claudia Hermes


A Framework for Prioritizing Areas for Conservation in Tropical Montane Cloud Forests is published in Écoscience.

Find out more about this year's BioOne Ambassador Award winners