IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

4.6.1 Adaptation options

As climatic changes occur, natural resource management techniques can be applied to increase the resilience of ecosystems. Increasing resilience is consistent also with the ‘ecosystem approach’ developed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which is a “strategy for management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way” (Smith and Malthby, 2003). There are many opportunities to increase resilience (Cropp and Gabrica, 2002; Tompkins and Adger, 2003); however, they may only be effective for lower levels of climate change (²2-3°C, Executive Summary, Figure 4.4, Table 4.1).

Effective responses depend on an understanding of likely regional climatic and ecological changes. Monitoring environmental change, including climate, and associated ecosystem responses is vital to allow for adjustments in management strategies (e.g., Adger et al., 2003; Moldan et al., 2005). Although many adaptation options are available to wildlife managers, uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of climate change and delayed ecosystem responses (e.g., Section 4.4.5) may discourage their application. Nevertheless, ‘no regrets’ decisions based on the ‘precautionary principle’ appear preferable. Actions to reduce the impact of other threats, such as habitat fragmentation or destruction, pollution and introduction of alien species, are very likely to enhance resilience to climate change (e.g., Goklany, 1998; Inkley et al., 2004; Opdam and Wascher, 2004). Such proactive approaches would encourage conservation planning that is relevant both today and in the future. Techniques that allow the management of conservation resources in response to climate variability may ultimately prove to be the most beneficial way of preparing for possible abrupt climate change by increasing ecosystem resilience (Bharwani et al., 2005).

A few key options to adapt at least to lower levels of climate change in intensively managed ecosystems (Chapter 5) have been suggested (e.g., Hannah et al., 2002a, 2002b; Hannah and Lovejoy, 2003; Hansen et al., 2003). Expansion of reserve systems can potentially reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems to climate change (McNeely and Schutyser, 2003). Reserve systems may be designed with some consideration of long-term shifts in plant and animal distributions, natural disturbance regimes and the overall integrity of the protected species and ecosystems (e.g., Williams et al., 2005). Ultimately, adaptation possibilities are determined by the conservation priorities of each reserve and by the magnitude and nature of the change in climate. Strategies to cope with climate change are beginning to be considered in conservation (Cowling et al., 1999; Chopra et al., 2005; Scott and Lemieux, 2005), and highlight the importance of planning guided by future climate scenarios.

A primary adaptation strategy to climate change and even current climate variability is to reduce and manage the other stresses on species and ecosystems, such as habitat fragmentation and destruction, over-exploitation, eutrophication, desertification and acidification (Inkley et al., 2004; Duraiappah et al., 2005; Robinson et al., 2005; Worm et al., 2006). Robinson et al. (2005) suggest that this may be the only practical large-scale adaptation policy available for marine ecosystems. In addition to removing other stressors it is necessary to maintain viable, connected and genetically diverse populations (Inkley et al., 2004; Robinson et al., 2005). Small, isolated populations are often more prone to local extirpations than larger, more widespread populations (e.g., Gitay et al., 2002; Davis et al., 2005; Lovejoy and Hannah, 2005). Although connectivity, genetic diversity and population size are important current conservation goals, climate change increases their importance. The reduction and fragmentation of habitats may also be facilitated through increases in agricultural productivity (e.g., Goklany and Trewavas, 2003) reducing pressures on natural ecosystems. However, increasing demand for some types of biofuels may negate this potential benefit (e.g., Busch, 2006).

Reducing stress on ecosystems is difficult, especially in densely populated regions. Recent studies in southern Africa have signalled the need for policy to focus on managing areas outside protected areas (e.g., subsistence rangelands – Von Maltitz et al., 2006). This can, in part, be achieved through the devolution of resource ownership and management to communities, securing community tenure rights and incentives for resource utilisation. This argument is based on the observation that greater species diversity occurs outside protected areas that are more extensive (Scholes et al., 2004). Species migration between protected areas in response to shifting climatic conditions is likely to be impeded, unless assisted by often costly interventions geared towards landscapes with greater ecological connectivity. Strategic national policies could co-ordinate with communal or private land-use systems, especially when many small reserves are involved and would be particularly cost-effective if they address climate change proactively. Finally, migration strategies are very likely to become substantially more effective when they are implemented over larger regions and across national borders (e.g., Hansen et al., 2003).

Controlled burning and other techniques may be useful to reduce fuel load and the potential for catastrophic wildfires. It may also be possible to minimise the effect of severe weather events by, for example, securing water rights to maintain water levels through a drought, or by having infrastructure capable of surviving floods. Maintaining viable and widely dispersed populations of individual species also minimises the probability that localised catastrophic events will cause significant negative effects (e.g., hurricane, typhoon, flood).

Climate change is likely to increase opportunities for invasive alien species because of their adaptability to disturbance (Stachowicz et al., 2002; Lake and Leishman, 2004). Captive breeding for reintroduction and translocation or the use of provenance trials in forestry are expensive and likely to be less successful if climate change is more rapid. Such change could result in large-scale modifications of environmental conditions, including the loss or significant alteration of existing habitat over some or all of a species’ range. Captive breeding and translocation should therefore not be perceived as panaceas for the loss of biological diversity that might accompany large changes in the climate. Populations of many species are already perilously small, and further loss of habitat and stress associated with severe climate change may push many taxa to extinction.

A costly adaptation option would be the restoration of habitats currently under serious threat, or creation of new habitats in areas where natural colonisation is unlikely to occur (Anonymous, 2000). In many cases the knowledge of ecosystem interactions and species requirements may be lacking. Engineering habitats to facilitate species movements may call for an entirely new field of study. Engineering interactions to defend coastlines, for example, that change the connectivity of coastal ecosystems, facilitate the spread of non-native species (Bulleri, 2005) as well as warm-temperate species advancing polewards (Helmuth et al., 2006; Mieszkowska et al., 2006).

Ultimately, managers may need to enhance or replace diminished or lost ecosystem services. This could mean manual seed dispersal or reintroducing pollinators. In the case of pest outbreaks, the use of pesticides may be necessary. Enhancing or replacing other services, such as contributions to nutrient cycling, ecosystem stability and ecosystem biodiversity may be much more difficult. The loss or reduced capacity of ecosystem services is likely to be a major source of ‘surprises’ from climate change.