As the need to address climate change grows ever more urgent, so does the simultaneous need for proactive management of Earth’s rapidly changing biosphere, according to a study published today in the review Science.
“We can actually do a lot to help systems cope with impending climate change,” says Jonathan Moore, a Simon Fraser University biology professor and author, who, along with University of Washington professor Daniel Schindler, reviewed and assessed the potential benefits of forward-looking approaches. . “From restoring connectivity to reducing local stressors to conserving future habitats, all of these proactive approaches can help the ecosystems we rely on to adapt to climate change.”
With this in mind, for species and ecosystems to adapt and be resilient, it is essential to go beyond conservation-focused approaches and include those that enable ecological change, notes Schindler. “Local efforts to conserve biodiversity and regenerate habitat complexity will also help maintain a diversity of future options for species and ecosystems into the unpredictable future.”
While the movement of species to new habitats has been key to the biosphere’s adaptive response to a changing world, climate change is also transforming these ecosystems, resulting in the loss of some species and the addition of others.
The authors note that conservation should not only focus on “losers from climate change”, but also on proactively managing emerging opportunities and pressures. In the Arctic, warming oceans and shrinking sea ice may create greater fish production, but threaten some species like polar bears that depend on the ice to hunt seals. Loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean also increases pressures from industrial activities such as shipping and oil and gas exploration that pose environmental risks. These pressures must be managed as part of a forward-looking approach to ensure the stewardship of the Arctic ecosystem into the future.
Earth’s biodiversity has a history of change, with genes, species, populations and ecosystems all evolving fluidly with a changing world. “Earth systems have an incredible ability to adapt and resist change,” Moore says. “It’s what has allowed some species to persist for millions of years. But our actions are seriously compromising that adaptability.”
The authors warn that even with the most aggressive emission reduction strategies, warming will “persist for decades” before potentially recovering, and strategies that enable adaptation and resilience will be essential to keep ecosystems functioning and to conserve biodiversity.
“Natural resource management and conservation efforts will need to incorporate the dynamic aspects of the biosphere to help maintain functioning ecosystems and protect biodiversity in the context of ongoing climate change,” Moore said.
Schindler says it is important and urgent for humanity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and “the reality is that the world is getting warmer and systems are changing. We often expect ecosystems to always look alike, or that certain species are always found in the same places.The biosphere has never been static – and we must adopt management approaches that maintain a dynamic and fluid biosphere.Thus, conservation and management must be forward-looking – forward-looking, and proactive – acting for the future.”
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Material provided by Simon Fraser University. Original written by Melissa Shaw. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.