A Good Idea or Just an Idea: Which Adaptation Strategies for Conservation are Tested?

Lara J. Hansen, Kathryn N. Braddock, Deb A. Rudnick
Posted on: 9/15/2023 - Updated on: 9/15/2023

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Several highly cited review articles identify recommended adaptation strategies for conservation. However, those reviews do not include evaluation of whether the recommended adaptation measures were tested and found to be effective in reducing climate change vulnerability. The basic question of this paper is to determine if there has been assessment of the potential effectiveness of adaptation recommendations for conservation reported in the published literature, and if so, what kind of assessment was used.

To answer this question, literature was surveyed from the references in previous review papers focused on climate change adaptation recommendations, and augmented by a targeted literature search to identify studies that assess the effectiveness of recommended adaptation actions listed in those reviews. Identified studies were categorized by study type according to a hierarchy of adaptation efficacy testing.

The result was a very modest number of studies that experimentally tested adaptation efficacy (n = 13), including only one indicating the chosen strategy did not achieve its intended goal, and only one study that tested efficacy through monitoring. For some of the recommendations, only one efficacy assessing paper was identified.

There appears to be a significant shortage of studies presenting evidence that would be most useful in determining if a recommended action is likely to confer the desired conservation improvement, as well as a stagnation in the growth of the field. This points to a need for more efforts to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of adaptation recommendations for biodiversity management. Without it, we cannot learn which are the good ideas.


  • The objective of this research was to investigate whether the efficacy of adaptation recommendations for conservation has been evaluated in the published literature. Our approach included a literature review of previous climate change adaptation recommendation papers and a targeted search for studies that assess the effectiveness of the recommended adaptation actions mentioned in those reviews.
  • The majority of studies that evaluated these recommendations were based on climate-informed modeling rather than practical testing. This lack of real-world testing and supporting evidence means that many adaptation strategies remain in the conceptual stage, highlighting the necessity for additional research to measure their effectiveness in promoting biodiversity management in the face of climate change.
  • Additionally, by choosing to take no action, we are ultimately selecting an untested strategy. Climate change is a multifaceted and unprecedented challenge, and inaction is essentially a gamble with unpredictable consequences.

This research is part of a larger project by EcoAdapt entitled, Climate Change Adaptation Efficacy Testing and Grantmaking Criteria.


Hansen, L.J., Braddock, K.N., Rudnick, D.A. (2023). "A good idea or just an idea: Which adaptation strategies for conservation are tested?" Biological Conservation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2023.110276

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EcoAdapt is at the center of climate change adaptation innovation. We provide support, training, and assistance to make conservation and management less vulnerable and more Climate Savvy. Over the past 200 years, great strides have been made in the world of conservation and now all of that is at risk because of climate change. EcoAdapt is working to ensure the success of these past efforts by delivering a framework for climate adaptation.

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