Can wildlife adapt to climate change?

Let’s Begin…

With rising temperatures and seas, massive droughts, and changing landscapes, successfully adapting to climate change is increasingly important. For humans, this can mean using technology to find solutions. But for some plants and animals, adapting to these changes involves the most ancient solution of all: evolution. Erin Eastwood explains how animals are adapting to climate change.

Is ‘Resilience’ Maladaptive? Towards an Accurate Lexicon for Climate Change Adaptation

Climate change adaptation is a rapidly evolving field in conservation biology and includes a range of strategies from resisting to actively directing change on the landscape. The term ‘climate change resilience,’ frequently used to characterize adaptation strategies, deserves closer scrutiny because it is ambiguous, often misunderstood, and difficult to apply consistently across disciplines and spatial and temporal scales to support conservation efforts. Current definitions of resilience encompass all aspects of adaptation from resisting and absorbing change to reorganizing and transforming in response to climate change. However, many stakeholders are unfamiliar with this spectrum of definitions and assume the more common meaning of returning to a previous state after a disturbance. Climate change, however, is unrelenting and intensifying, characterized by both directional shifts in baseline conditions and increasing variability in extreme events. This ongoing change means that scientific understanding and management responses must develop concurrently, iteratively, and collaboratively, in a science-management partnership. Divergent concepts of climate change resilience impede cross-jurisdictional adaptation efforts and complicate use of adaptive management frameworks. Climate change adaptation practitioners require clear terminology to articulate management strategies and the inherent tradeoffs involved in adaptation. Language that distinguishes among strategies that seek to resist change, accommodate change, and direct change (i.e., persistence, autonomous change, and directed change) is prerequisite to clear communication about climate change adaptation goals and management intentions in conservation areas.

Department of the Interior Climate Change Adaptation Plan (2014)

Adaptation is the adjustments that society or ecosystems make to limit negative effects of climate change. The Department’s approach to adaptation focuses on increasing the resilience of the Department’s assets, program activities, and mission responsibilities in response to climate vulnerabilities. Resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from disruptions.

While the Department’s 2013 Climate Change Adaptation Plan focused on assessing the Department’s climate change related vulnerabilities, the 2014 Plan focuses more on the Department’s work to address climate change through implementation of Executive Order 13653 and the Department’s Climate Change Adaptation Policy (523 DM 1). Section II of this plan explains the Department’s official Climate Change Adaptation Policy and provides additional guiding principles. Section III summarizes the Department’s efforts to address climate related risks. Section IV demonstrates the Department’s efforts to modernize programs to support climate resilience investment.

NatureServe Vista


United States
44° 23' 22.2324" N, 99° 23' 32.2872" W
Tool Overview: 

NatureServe Vista® is a free, ArcGIS extension that automates advanced spatial analyses for planners and managers. It is a highly capable decision-support system that helps users integrate conservation with many types of planning, ecosystem based management, ecosystem based adaptation, and scenario-based planning.

Climate Sensitivity of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System

Estuaries are places where rivers meet the sea, providing nursery habitat for fish and shellfish while buffering many coastal communities from the impacts of coastal storms and sea level rise. The climate exposure of each reserve provides first alarm indicators about the effects of climate change on the coastal ecosystems. Ongoing research at each of the reserves provides real-time data about how climate change impacts these important natural resources.

Almost 40 percent of all Americans, or about 123 million people, live in the counties directly along the shoreline and depend on these resources for food, jobs, storm protection, and recreation. Approximately 50 percent, or $6.6 trillion, of the nation’s gross domestic product comes from coastal watershed counties which support more than 51 million jobs.

Researchers determined the extent of relative climate sensitivity in the reserves by looking at five factors: social, biophysical, and ecological sensitivity, and exposure to temperature change and sea level rise.

Educating Sportsmen in Montana about the Impacts of Climate Change


United States
47° 5' 2.6376" N, 111° 39' 30.7728" W
Montana US

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) is an organization dedicated to land stewardship, expanding habitat and increasing public access to quality hunting and fishing. In 2007, Bill Geer of the TRCP piloted the Sportsmen's Values Mapping Project in Montana, which captures sportsmen’s input to delineate highly valued hunting and fishing areas.

Webinar: Integrating Climate Change into Northeast and Midwest State Wildlife Action Plans

This webinar discusses the recent report, Integrating Climate Change into Northeast and Midwest State Wildlife Action Plans, a tool to assist in the revision of 10-year state plans. The purpose of this NE CSC-led cooperative project is to provide a synthesis of what is known and what is uncertain about climate change and its impacts across the NE CSC region, with a particular focus on the responses and vulnerabilities of Regional Species of Greatest Conservation Need (RSGCN) and the habitats they depend on. Another goal is to describe a range of climate change adaptation approaches, processes, tools, and potential partnerships that are available to State natural resource managers across the Northeast and Midwest regions of the United States. 

Indicators of Climate Change in Idaho: An Assessment Framework for Coupling Biophysical Change and Social Perception

Climate change is well documented at the global scale, but local and regional changes are not as well understood. Finer, local- to regional-scale information is needed for creating specific, place-based planning and adaption efforts. Here the development of an indicator-focused climate change assessment in Idaho is described. This interdisciplinary framework couples end users’ data needs with observed, biophysical changes at local to regional scales. An online statewide survey of natural resource professionals was conducted to assess the perceived impacts from climate change and determine the biophysical data needed to measure those impacts. Changes to water resources and wildfire risk were the highest areas of concern among resource professionals. Guided by the survey results, 15 biophysical indicator datasets were summarized that included direct climate metrics (e.g., air temperature) and indicators only partially influenced by climate (e.g., wildfire). Quantitative changes in indicators were determined using time series analysis from 1975 to 2010. Indicators displayed trends of varying likelihood over the analysis period, including increasing growingseason length, increasing annual temperature, increasing forest area burned, changing mountain bluebird and lilac phenology, increasing precipitation intensity, earlier center of timing of streamflow, and decreased 1 April snowpack; changes in volumetric streamflow, salmon migration dates, and stream temperature displayed the least likelihood. A final conceptual framework derived from the social and biophysical data provides an interdisciplinary case example useful for consideration by others when choosing indicators at local to regional scales for climate change assessments.

Identifying Resilient Terrestrial Landscapes in the Pacific Northwest

This report represents the culmination of a project completed in two phases funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The first phase focused on adapting a process developed by The Nature Conservancy in the Northeastern US to identify and map sites most resilient to climate change (Anderson et al. 2012) to the landscapes and environments of the Pacific Northwest. The 67 million hectare project area included all of the Columbia Plateau, East Cascades/Modoc Plateau, and Middle Rockies/Blue Mountains ecoregions as well as the US portion of the Canadian Rockies (see map 4.1). The second phase expanded our geography to include the ecoregions west of the Cascade crest. This 25 million hectare area includes all of the West Cascades, Klamath Mountains, California North Coast and Sierra Nevada ecoregions and the US portions of the Willamette Valley/Puget Trough, Pacific Northwest Coast, and North Cascades ecoregions.

The goal of this project was to identify areas in the Northwest that collectively and individually best sustain native biodiversity, even as the changing climate alters current distribution patterns, in order to guide future conservation investment (TNC 2011, 2013). We refer to these areas as resilient sites. Herein we use the term resilience (modified from Gunderson 2000) to refer to the capacity of a landscape or ecoregion to maintain biological diversity and ecological function despite climatic change.