Climate change impacts biodiversity in a myriad of ways. Some species may even flourish under climatic conditions which are more favourable as a result of climate change. However, the rate of warming predicted is greater than anything which has been experienced for millions of years. Consequently there is a strong possibility that many species will find the physiological stress associated with temperature and precipitation changes too great, making it impossible for them to adapt. Whilst some changes will occur indirectly, as the result of climatic impacts on key ecological processes, including the frequency and intensity of fire events, predator-prey interactions, water flow, and nutrient cycling. Anthropogenic stresses such as habitat loss and fragmentation, as well as the introduction of any invasive species which they may interact with, might exacerbate the impacts of climate change.
For biodiversity conservation to be effective in the long-term, it is critical that practices address new climatic conditions and that efforts to reduce non-climatic stresses continue. This will support species, and the ecological processes upon which they depend on in order to adapt. With this aim in mind, there are several aspects to be considered, including:-
- the protection and restoration of ecological and evolutionary connectivity
- reducing other stresses (feral populations, pollution, habitat loss etc.)
- increasing the size and number of protected areas
- managing the matrices between protected areas
- pro-actively protecting large, intact landscapes and seascapes
The impacts of climate change can vary at a regional and even local scale, so in identifying relevant adaptation strategies, detailed climate change predictions specific to areas of conservation importance, and the likely responses of species are needed. Several tools are now available to facilitate this process.
Integrating climate change adaptation plans into more general conservation planning is still in its infancy, however a number of tools have been developed recently to support this process.
The following points outlines a number of possible management strategies for addressing climate change:
- Moving protected areas - If a reserve is created to protect a certain habitat and that habitat moves in response to changing conditions, it may be necessary to extend the protected area boundaries in one direction and to de-gazette areas that no longer contain the target habitat (for example, to move a coastal protected area inshore as sea level rises or to move a mountain protected area further uphill).
- Translocation - If a geographical barrier prevents their natural movement in response to climate change, it may be necessary to relocate animals and plants. This supposes that there is a suitable area that is not already populated by similar species. Experience in translocation has not always been successful: several translocations (e.g. for biological control) have resulted in the spread of alien invasive species, and there are now stricter guidelines governing movement of species.
- Artificial feeding – In the short term, it may be necessary to provide key populations with supplementary feed and water to keep them alive until a more sustainable solution is found, for example, in the event of a drought causing a mass die-off of species with limited distribution.
- Habitat modification - If certain food plants that are critical for the survival of particular species are dying as a result of climate change, it may be possible to enrich the habitat by planting alternative food plants better able to thrive at higher temperatures.
- Habitat creation - In a worst-case scenario, for instance where rainforests are replaced by arid conditions, it may be necessary to attempt to move entire ecological communities of plant, animal and fungi species to areas that are newly watered by changing rainfall patterns.
- Rajarshi Bhattacharjee | Consultant & Advisor - Indirect Taxation | Meghalaya