During the past decade, our understanding of the potential risks that climate change poses to ecosystem function and natural-area protection has increased. Simulation studies of expected changes in species ranges and changes in ecosystem dynamics have indicated that rapidly changing climatic conditions could significantly thwart natural-area protection efforts at a global scale. In response to this potential threat, prescriptive policy and management recommendations have begun to emerge. These management responses include general guidelines for selecting new protected habitats, preemptive actions such as the development of connective corridor systems between protected areas, and active habitat management interventions. At present, many suggested natural-area management responses are only vaguely defined and have yet to be fully tested. To be effective, management responses must now be rigorously assessed with focused and practical ecological analysis. In this overview I examine the current state of research on the risks posed to natural-area protection by climate change and the feasibility of suggested management responses. Examples of potential impacts on global nature-reserve systems, the composition of landscape boundaries of natural ecosystems, and latitudinal differences in expected ecosystem response are presented to illustrate the complexity of potential habitat changes. Examples of potential nature-reserve impacts are provided to demonstrate that the spatial variation presented in climate-change scenarios significantly affects the distribution of climatic impacts on areas of biodiversity protection. An assessment of the composition of landscape boundaries of natural vegetation areas is used to demonstrate the urgent need for analysis of ecosystem dynamics in human-dominated landscapes. Changes in potential vegetation zones at different latitudes are presented to identify limitations in the use of generic rules of altitudinal species response applied globally. Ecological researchers can advance our understanding of ecosystem responses to climate change by conducting well-defined sensitivity analyses at site-specific or sub-regional scales; the current lack of fine-scale climate models need not delay such research. Direct extrapolation of observed species distributions in relation to present climate as a means for projecting future responses is inappropriate; such projections must include consideration of physiological tolerances, competition, and dispersal mechanisms. Understanding local disturbance regimes is fundamental to understanding changes in ecosystem properties and stability. How landscape fragmentation interacts with population mobility and dynamics must be defined in order to better characterize ecosystem controls. Finally, management interventions must be critically evaluated with regard to ecological viability and benefits vs. costs.
Ecological Applications – Ecological Society of America
Published: Aug 1, 1997
Keywords: adaptive management ; climate change ; global climate change ; landscape fragmentation vs. climate change ; natural-area protection and biodiversity maintenance ; natural-area protection, climate-change effects on ; nature reserves, viability and climate change
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