Climate Change Adaptation: New Perspectives for Natural Resource Management and Conservation

Rebecca G. Harvey, Laura A. Brandt, and Frank J. Mazzotti
Posted on: 3/03/2019 - Updated on: 2/28/2020

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Climate change is creating new challenges for conservation and management of natural resources. As temperatures, rainfall patterns, and disturbance regimes change and sea levels rise, ecosystems are being transformed. Some species of plants and animals are already shifting their distributions in response to climate change, and changes in phenology are disrupting ecological relationships and species interactions. Some organisms also respond physiologically to increasing temperatures and CO2 concentrations.

These changes are raising questions about the effectiveness of traditional strategies for conserving natural resources. The missions of conservation agencies typically involve protecting particular species and ecosystems within fixed systems of protected areas. However, with climate change species and communities may “move out” of the reserves that were established to protect them, and may not have the needed migration corridors to successfully disperse.

The rate at which climate is projected to change in coming decades is likely too fast for many species to genetically adapt or to migrate (through increasingly fragmented landscapes) to new suitable areas. Climate change underscores the need, apparent to many in the conservation community, to transform our perspective from a static and stable view of the natural world to one that is dynamic and accepting of uncertainty. While many of our conservation tools and approaches will stay the same, a new perspective will enable us to better apply these tools to meet future challenges. This fact sheet summarizes recommendations from four recent reviews of the literature on climate change “adaptation” (Glick et al. 2009, Heller and Zavaleta 2009, Lawler 2009, West et al. 2009).