Species Affected By Climate Change: To Move Or Not To Move?

Researchers have developed a decision framework to decide whether to move species that face climate change.

AsianScientist (Jul. 29, 2011) – Relocating species threatened by climate change is a radical and hotly debated strategy for maintaining biodiversity.

Now, researchers from CSIRO, University of Queensland, University of Melbourne, and the United States Geological Survey have developed a decision framework to ascertain whether to move species in the face of climate change. Their research has been published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change.

Managed relocation of species, also known as assisted colonization, involves moving plants or animals from an unsustainable area to areas where there are more suitable climatic conditions, but where they have not existed in previously.

While the virtues of managed relocation of species are being debated by the scientific community, the reality is that it is already occurring.

According to Dr. Eve McDonald-Madden, CSIRO researcher and research fellow at the University of Queensland, as our climate changes more rapidly than species can adapt or disperse, natural resource managers increasingly want to know what adaptation options are available to help them conserve biodiversity.

The decision-making framework developed shows that the best timing for moving species depends on many factors such as: the size of the population, the expected losses in the population through relocation, and the expected numbers that the new location could be expected to support.

“It would also rely on good predictions about the impact of climate shifts on a particular species and the suitability of areas to which they can move – an often difficult issue in the case of rare species because we just don’t have this sort of detailed information,” McDonald-Madden said.

To ensure that managed relocation plans succeed, monitoring and learning about how the plants and animals function in their ‘native’ ecosystems is crucial, said CSIRO researcher Dr. Tara Martin. This type of active adaptive management is important when they are unsure of what climatic changes are being faced in the current habitat.

“Our framework provides managers with a rational basis for making timely decisions under uncertainty to ensure species persistence in the long-term,” Martin said. “Without relocating species we are destined to lose some of our most important and iconic wildlife.”

Martin also noted that at the end of the day, the species will need viable ecosystems into which they can be moved to, and that managed relocation is not a quick fix to the problem.

Managed relocation may be used in some specific circumstances for species that they really care about, but it will not be a “savior for all biodiversity” in the face of climate change, she said.

The article can be found at: McDonald-Madden E et al. (2011) Optimal timing for managed relocation of species faced with climate change.


Source: CSIRO.
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