Meeting the Challenge - Strategies for Adapting Watershed Ecosystems to Climate Change. Proceedings of the 2009 State of the Laguna Conference and Science Symposium
Global change is driven by a variety of forces that have combined into a major world challenge as a globalizing human population is continually expanding, and its technological advances of the past centuries have begun bearing unwanted fruit.
- The continued destruction and degradation of natural habitats and the exploitation of ecosystems for human benefits have caused a biodiversity crisis that is unprecedented and unmatched even by the great Cambrian mass extinctions ~540 million years ago.
- Increased global travel and commerce have allowed the dispersal of species and pathogens at an unprecedented rate, causing non-native species to invade and compete with native species, and in many cases permanently changing native ecosystems.
- Most importantly, the excessive release of greenhouse gases globally are causing the Earth’s climate to change, in turn amplifying all other global change factors, and challenging the evolutionary adaptive capacity of species at unparalleled rates (e.g. can polar bears really adapt quickly enough as their main hunting grounds - the polar ice caps - disappear faster and faster?).
This rapid global change is unavoidably causing more extinctions, and permanently reshuffling the playing field as we know it today, restructuring natural communities and ecosystems according to new micro- and macroclimates. The effects of a changing climate on natural systems are a reality and already measurable in many natural systems. Therefore the implementation of climate adaptation strategies, such as minimizing additional system stressors (e.g.. invasive species, habitat degradation), and informed response strategies for restoration and land management are imperative. In order to guide our work as conservation practitioners, scientists, land managers and agricultural operators we need to openly face this major change and come together to formulate solutions. Sonoma County leads the nation’s local governments in the development of a coordinated climate mitigation strategy (actively reducing greenhouse gases known to cause climate change), and we realized that a parallel County coordination effort focused on climate adaptation (implementing preventative measures aimed at reducing the eventual cumulative impact of climate change on resources of concern) is imperative.