Climate change and landscape planning: key principles to enhance the adaptive capacity of the landscape

Authors and Affiliations: 

Claire C. Vos, Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Wageningen, The Netherlands

Carla J. Grashof-Bokdam, Alterra, Wageningen University and Research Centre, Wageningen, The Netherlands


Adapting landscapes to reduce impacts from climate change has received increasing scientific attention since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put adaptation on its agenda. However, whether such adaptation measures are actually implemented has received little attention in science, so far. To help bridge this gap between science and application we consider climate change adaptation in the context of the adaptive capacity of social-ecological systems. Remarkably, most scientific literature on social-ecological systems considers adaptive capacity as a characteristic of the human community only. Hence it is overlooked that adaptive capacity is also a characteristic of the physical system. In this paper we explore how knowledge of the adaptive capacity of the physical landscape could be incorporated in landscape planning.

We studied , landscape ecological, resilience and climate adaptation literature to identify spatially explicit principles to enhance the adaptive capacity of the physical landscape.

Because landscape patterns and landscape functioning are interrelated spatial principles based on landscape patterns that can be linked to adaptive capacity would be especially appropriate to use in governing landscape adaptation to climate change.

We generated three spatially explicit principles for the adaptive capacity of landscapes that can be applied in the practice of local planning: size, heterogeneity and connectivity. We expect that these adaptive capacity principles could stimulate the design of ecologically sustainable solutions, as the principles are concerned with the long term viability of systems and necessarily incorporate broader scales.

An analysis of adaptation measures showed that measures  that can be categorized under the three adaptive capacity principles also showed potential for synergy between sectors. Therefore we hypothesize that using the adaptive capacity principles in multiple stakeholder planning will help to find integrated regional adaptation solutions.