Application of a decision framework for considering climate change adaptation in biodiversity conservation planning at a national scale

Authors and Affiliations: 

Richard J. Smithers1, Tom H. Oliver2 and Kevin Watts3

1Ricardo-AEA Ltd., The Gemini Building, Fermi Avenue, Harwell, Didcot, OX11 0QR, UK

2Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Maclean Building, Benson Lane, Crowmarsh Gifford Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK

3Forest Research, Alice Holt, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4LH, UK.


Climate change is already having significant impacts on biodiversity (Mitchell et al. 2007). Adaptation actions need to be implemented without delay because of the length of time it will take to implement them and for biodiversity to respond. Climate change adaptation principles for biodiversity have been formulated for conservation managers (e.g. Mawdsley et al. 2009) and more generally (Smithers et al. 2008). However, anecdotal evidence suggests a lack of understanding of how to prioritize and target these principles may be inhibiting their implementation. We present a decision framework (Oliver et al. 2012) that is intended to promote integration of the principles into conservation planning.

The framework considers species’ exposure and sensitivity and current adaptive capacity to climate change in order to prioritize and target actions to increase their adaptive capacity. It reflects the consensus for prioritizing landscape-scale actions outlined in an official review of England’s protected areas by Lawton et al. (2010), but with a slight change of emphasis for ‘better, bigger, more, improve connectivity, translocate and ex-situ’, rather than ‘more, bigger, better, joined’. Hence, the framework targets and prioritizes actions to remove existing threats to species before improving functional connectivity across landscapes (Doerr, Barrett & Doerr 2011; Hodgson et al. 2011). The framework can be applied at international, national, regional, or local scales, and can be focused on those species that are perceived to be most threatened by climate change (Thomas et al. 2011) or, more broadly, on keystone species, umbrella species or generic focal species (Simberloff 1998; Watts et al. 2010) in order to meet the needs of a wider range of species or habitats.

As the framework is intended for use by conservation managers, we demonstrate its rapid deployment at a national scale on 30 UK priority species by relying on readily accessible and easily interpreted sources of information. Many elements of climate change adaptation principles for biodiversity are neither new nor specific to climate change adaptation and underpin existing conservation policy and practice. Thus, one might anticipate that use of the framework would lead to adaptation actions being highlighted that are consistent with specific conservation actions already identified nationally for priority species. However, our results suggest that, whilst current conservation actions often focus on in-situ management within species’ historic ranges, the framework prioritizes a wider suite of adaptation actions that also address projected future climate space. We anticipate that, in combination with consideration of socio-economic and local factors, the decision framework will be a useful tool for conservation managers to integrate adaptation measures into their plans.


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