Adapting to climate change: is there scope for ecological management in the face of a global threat?

Hulme, P.E. | Journal of Applied Ecology | 2005 | Peer Reviewed | Review |


Climate change is recognized as a major threat to the survival of species and integrityof ecosystems world-wide. Although considerable research has focused on climate impacts, relatively little work to date has been conducted on the practical application ofstrategies for adapting to climate change. Adaptation strategies should aim to increasethe flexibility in management of vulnerable ecosystems, enhance the inherent adapta-bility of species and ecosystem processes, and reduce trends in environmental and socialpressures that increase vulnerability to climate variability. 2. Knowledge of the specific attributes of climate change likely to impact on speciesor habitats is central to any adaptive management strategy. Temperature is not the onlyclimate variable likely to change as a result of anthropogenic increases in greenhousegases. In some regions changes in precipitation, relative humidity, radiation, wind speedand/or potential evapotranspiration may be more marked than for temperature. 3. Uncertainty exists in the response of species and ecosystems to a given climatescenario. While climate will have a direct impact on the performance of many species, forothers impacts will be indirect and result from changes in the spatiotemporal availabilityof natural resources. In addition, mutualistic and antagonistic interactions amongspecies will mediate both the indirect and direct effects of climate change. 4. Approaches to predict species’ responses to climate change have tended to addresseither changes in abundance with time or in spatial distribution. While correlativemodels may provide a good indication of climate change impacts on abundance, greaterunderstanding is generated by models incorporating aspects of life history, intra- andinterspecific competition and predation. Models are especially sensitive to the uncer-tainty inherent in future climate predictions, the complexity of species’ interactions andthe difficulties in parameterizing dispersal functions. Model outputs that have not beenappropriately validated with real data should be treated with caution. 5. Synthesis and applications . While climate impacts may be severe, they are oftenexacerbated by current management practices, such as the construction of sea defences,flood management and fire exclusion. In many cases adaptation approaches geared tosafeguard economic interests run contrary to options for biodiversity conservation.Increased environmental variability implies lower sustainable harvest rates andincreased risks of population collapse. Climate change may significantly reduce habitatsuitability and may threaten species with limited dispersal ability. In these cases, well-planned species translocations may prove a better option than management attempts toincrease landscape connectivity. Mathematical models, long-term population studies,natural experiments and the exploitation of natural environmental gradients provide asound basis for further understanding the consequences of climate change.