Adapting to global change


In response to climate change, plants have three possibilities: adapt, migrate or become extinct.

Until recently, the conservation of biodiversity has been undertaken based on the assumption that we live in a dynamic but slowly changing world. This must be reconsidered in light of the rapid rate of change to which our planet is being subjected. These changes are collectively referred to as global change.

This module focuses on the overarching issues of global change likely to affect the survival of many CWR.

Climate change and protected areas

The projected impacts of climate change on protected areas in many parts of the world will force us to rethink their role in biodiversity conservation. A fixed system of protected areas cannot effectively respond to global change and considerable rethinking in the design of such areas is necessary. Climate change will also force protected area manages to reassess management objectives, paying attention to the maintenance of ecosystem health and the conservation needs of target species. They will need to be prepared for more frequent and sometimes intensive management interventions1.

A strategy to mitigate risks associated with climate change should include2:

  • Improved linkages between protected areas
  • Improved protected area management
  • Improved protected area design
  • Improved management of surrounding matrix
  • Improved connectivity to allow species to migrate in the face of climate change.

1 - Hagerman, S.M. and Chan, Kai M.A. (2009) ‘Climate change and biodiversity conservation: Impacts, adaptation strategies and future research directions’, F1000 Biology Reports 1:16, DOI 10.3410/B1-16.
2 - Ervin, J., Mulongoy, K.J., Lawrence, K., Game, E., Sheppard, D., Bridgewater, P., Bennett, G., Gidda, S.B. and Bos, P. (2010) Making Protected Areas Relevant: A guide to integrating protected areas into widerlandscapes, seascapes and sectoral plans and strategies, CBD Technical Series No. 44, Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada.

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Climate change and biodiversity conservation

Current and predicted patterns of climate change are a major cause of concern. However, evidence as the extent to which climate change will impact the environment is still uncertain. While trends revealed by the use of general circulation models (GCMs) are apparent, they are accurate only to a resolution of one to three degrees in latitude and longitude, and details are far from clear at the regional and local scale. The uncertainties make planning adaptation or mitigation strategies difficult.

There is already good evidence of recent phenological change – time of bud burst, flowering, fruiting – attributable to climate change3. If such trends continue or increase, the impacts on biodiversity will be significant. Changes in both temperature and precipitation regimes over the coming decades are likely to affect many biological processes, including the distribution of species.

3 - Cleland, E.E., Chuine, I., Menzel, A., Mooney, H.A. and Schwartz, M.D. (2007) ‘Shifting plant phenology in response to global change’, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol 22, pp 357–365.

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Identifying taxa vulnerable to climate change

Main criteria:

  • Taxa with nowhere to go, such as mountain tops, low-lying islands or high latitudes.
  • Plants with restricted ranges such as rare and endemic species.
  • Taxa with poor dispersal capacity and/or long generation times.
  • Species susceptible to extreme conditions such as flood or drought.
  • Plants with extreme habitat/niche specialization.
  • Taxa with co-evolved or synchronous relationships with other species.
  • Species with inflexible physiological responses to climate variables.
  • Keystone taxa important in primary production or ecosystem processes and function.
  • Taxa with direct value for humans or with potential for future use.

Source - Gran Canaria Group (2006) The Gran Canaria Declaration II on Climate Change and Plant Conservation, Cabildo de Gran Canaria, Jardín Botánico “Viera yClavijo” and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).

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