Incorporating climate change adaptation into national conservation assessments

Game et al. | Global Change Biology | 2011 | Peer Reviewed | Original research |


The Convention on Biological Diversity requires that member nations establish protected area networks that are representative of the country’s biodiversity. The identification of priority sites to achieve outstanding representation targets is typically accomplished through formal conservation assessments. However, representation in conservation assessments or gap analyses has largely been interpreted based on a static view of biodiversity. In a rapidly changing climate, the speed of changes in biodiversity distribution and abundance is causing us to rethink the viability of this approach. Here we describe three explicit strategies for climate change adaptation as part of national conservation assessments: conserving the geophysical stage, identifying and protecting climate refugia, and promoting cross-environment connectivity. We demonstrate how these three approaches were integrated into a national terrestrial conservation assessment for Papua New Guinea, one of the most biodiverse countries on earth. Protected areas identified based on representing geophysical diversity were able to capture over 90% of the diversity in vegetation communities, suggesting they could help protect representative biodiversity regardless of changes in the distribution of species and communities. By including climate change refugia as part of the national conservation assessment, it was possible to substantially reduce the amount of environmental change expected to be experienced within protected areas, without increasing the overall cost of the protected area network. Explicitly considering environmental heterogeneity between adjacent areas resulted in protected area networks with over 40% more internal environmental connectivity. These three climate change adaptation strategies represent defensible ways to guide national conservation priority given the uncertainty that currently exists in our ability to predict climate changes and their impacts. Importantly, they are also consistent with data and expertise typically available during national conservation assessments, including in developing nations. This means that in the vast majority of countries, these strategies could be implemented immediately.