Researchers working for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have recently sought to establish a “map,” which could provide future insight into those regions of the globe most impacted by climate change. It’s thought these findings could aid in conservation efforts, by highlighting critical areas of investment and coordinating ecosystem-saving efforts in a timely manner.
Climate change impacts different ecosystems
One of the study’s lead authors, Dr. James Watson, working for the University of Queensland, and director of WCS’s Climate Change Program, discussed the need to realize that climate change is destined to shape ecosystems both directly and indirectly. According to Watson, we cannot continue operating on the assumption that all countries and regions across the globe are likely to be affected equally; the provision of limited funds means the strategies employed to combat global warming are going to have to be tailored, based upon geographical location.
According to Watson, his new map could be critical to achieving this:
“The analysis and map in this study is a means of bringing clarity to complicated decisions on where limited resources will do the most good.”
Adaptive capacity and vegetation intactness
The researchers used two different factors to create their climate change map, by determining what the authors call an “… envelope-based gauge of future climate stability.” Essentially, the group sought to deduce the future impact of climate change on a particular region, and compare it back to its original climate state.
An ecosystem’s “adaptive capacity” was then calculated by investigation of its natural integrity, which determined the proportion of natural vegetation that remained intact; this adaptive capacity provided an indication of a particular region’s vulnerability to climate change.
Once these data were collected, a relationship was drawn between the exposure of certain ecoregions to future climate change and the location’s so-called adaptive capacity. Essentially, the research group was creating a map to show an estimate of the stability of an ecosystem, relative to how “intact” that ecosystem remains.
The researchers hope this information might offer governments and environmental organizations an opportunity to identify those areas where conservation and restoration schemes might be best directed.
Watson and his colleagues generated a classification system to rate locations around the world, using a number of categories. The most suitable locations, for creating protected conservation zones, are those ecosystems which have the highest level of intact vegetation and offer the most resistance to climate change; these regions provide the most effective means for preserving a species.
On the other hand, ecosystems with extremely high stability, but diminished levels of vegetation, are ideal for restoration efforts, as climate change will not pose a significant risk in the future. However, a third scenario exists, with ecosystems that experience the most rapid climate change, and have the least intact vegetation. Under these circumstances, the authors believe that expensive conservation strategies would be necessary to protect these vulnerable regions.
The climate change map was published in the latest online edition of the journal Nature Climate Change.
Ultimately, the scientists identified vast “at-risk” regions. Central and western Europe, southern Australia, southern parts of Asia and eastern regions of South America have all been highlighted as potential regions of risk. This contrasts greatly with previous estimates, which fail to take into consideration vegetation intactness. Dated models proposed wildly different “at-risk” regions, including northern areas of Australia and South America, as well as central Africa.
The future of conservation efforts
According to News Wise, Executive Vice President for Conservation and Science Dr. John Robinson specified that future conservation attempts should, as a matter of course, consider how mankind can, and will, adapt to climate change.
Researchers have predicted that climate change is due to become a huge global threat throughout the 21st century, placing much of our biodiversity at risk. Although other researchers, in the past, have created models to predict climate change, many have done so using narrow sets of data.
Equally, attempting to predict how governments will respond to the region-specific changes is difficult at best. It is likely that governments will adopt a cost-effective approach to the dilemma; this is where Watson’s findings will be of great benefit. A map of climate change could pinpoint stable ecosystems that have reduced vegetation, thereby aiding in cost-effective conservation efforts.
By: James Fenner