Posted in | News | Climate Change | Ecology

New Method to Effectively Protect Future Biodiversity Against Climate Change

Suitable conditions are required by all plants and animals for their survival. Such conditions include an acceptable range of temperatures, a specific amount of light, and access to sources of water, food, and shelter.

A high alpine landscape in Glacier Peak Wilderness in Washington state. This is an example of an area that likely will be important for plant and animal species as the climate warms. Image Credit: Michelle Ma/University of Washington.

Most of the current efforts to protect flora and fauna throughout the United States depend on data about the current habitats of plant and animal species. For instance, if snowy plover—one of the rare bird species—is found in a particular location along the coast of Washington, conservationists will attempt to safeguard it from human development where it lives.

However, when the status quo is disrupted by climate change, a majority of the plants and animals will need to move to cooler climate or otherwise more appropriate settings for their survival. But how does this migration have an impact on measures used to protect biodiversity?

A study was recently conducted at The Evergreen State College and the University of Washington (UW), which explores the role of climate change in conservation planning and whether the new approach will safeguard future biodiversity more effectively compared to existing methods, and the potential costs and effectiveness of applying these solutions.

The study authors noted that a majority of the plants and animal species may probably need to move under climate change, and therefore, conservation planning will need to move to be effective. The study was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. journal on January 27th, 2020.

We are going to need to protect different places if we want to protect biodiversity in the future. We need to think about where species will go as the climate changes, and then plan for that. The business-as-usual planning process isn’t going to work.

Joshua Lawler, Study Lead Author and Professor, School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington

The scientists examined 1,460 different species of birds, plants, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals throughout the continental United States, to find out whether present habitats and potential future protected habitats are appropriate for each species.

They discovered that if the impact of climate change is not considered clearly, then as high as 14% of the species may not have a feasible place to survive under climate change. The reason for this is present conservation efforts focus on where the species are living currently and not where they will have to be in the coming days as temperatures warm.

Our findings show that species are going to shift around, and we are going to have to put some of our conservation efforts in different places—and that will come at a cost,” Lawler added.

In the last 20 years, investigators have been attempting to understand how conservation planning can factor the species migrating under climate change. Therefore, this research group looked into three proposed suggestions for how to achieve this and examined the possible costs and the effectiveness associated with adopting each suggestion.

Considering the steady progression of climate change, new strategies should be immediately developed and should be implemented to protect significant landscapes, stated the scientists.

Climate change effects that were originally projected to be decades in the future are starting to become apparent in the present day. This is not an abstract concept anymore. We need to take action as soon as possible, thinking about where species may need to go under climate change, and providing corridors through which they can move.

John Withey, Study Co-Author and Professor, The Evergreen State College

The team initially looked at the efforts and costs associated with choosing specific flora and fauna, then safeguarding land where they are today and where they will probably have to live in the days to come.

Modeling this data for species such as the yellow-billed magpie, western rattlesnake, and Townsend’s chipmunk, the researchers estimated that it would cost approximately 60% more than that the method that only protects the species’ present habitats.

The scientists then looked at more general methods, accounting for the costs required to protect landscapes with disappearing or rare climatic conditions that may offer protection to rare species as climate changes occur. A majority of these locations are at higher elevations, for example, alpine meadows. The team also considered “climate corridors” that may cause species to migrate safely to new places.

The authors found that protecting these locations would cost relatively more. This might be because a large part of the landscapes recognized as crucial under climate change is already situated in protected wilderness areas, national parks, private conservation areas from land trust, and fish and wildfire refuges.

It was encouraging to see that there were some climate-based solutions that didn’t increase the cost substantially.

Julia Michalak, Study Co-Author and Research Scientist School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington

The researchers believe that this study will prove useful to land trusts to establish which kinds of regions should be prioritized for conservation purposes.

While the study emphasizes parts of the nation that will require more conservation planning under climate change, the researchers cautioned that the study is not meant to point out that certain new parks had to be protected.

This paper is pointing out that we might be missing opportunities or places where conservation is going to be needed in the face of climate change,” Withey added. “Another hope is that we can start capturing places that would protect species and would allow species to move without increasing our costs too much.”

The study’s co-authors are Scott Rinnan, a former UW doctoral student currently at Yale; Christopher Randels, an undergraduate student from UW; and Hugh Possingham, lead scientist from The Nature Conservancy.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and the Wilburforce Foundation.


Tell Us What You Think

Do you have a review, update or anything you would like to add to this news story?

Leave your feedback
Your comment type