Putting climate change adaptation into conservation practice – July 2019 final blog entry

27th January 2020

The following blog is written by Dr James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science, BTO (project lead for the CCI Collaborative Fund project ‘Putting climate change adaptation into conservation practice’).

The overall aim of the project was to summarise the current state of evidence about the potential effectiveness for conservation interventions to help species adapt to climate change. Using four complementary resources of published evidence for conservation interventions, we reviewed studies that tested the effects of interventions on species populations affected by climatic change.  In combination, these studies provide a good assessment of the current state of evidence and knowledge gaps in relation to climate change adaptation.

An initial challenge was the definition of what ‘interventions in the face of climate change’ were (and how to define these). The initial challenge was overcome through intense discussion during early group meetings, leading to a clear set of decisions for specifying what to include.

Interventions were categorised into different types and their effectiveness summarised. Overall, there were many examples of interventions having a positive effect on species’ populations being affected by climatic change. Formal analysis was used to assess the potential effectiveness of interventions by intervention type and climate threat. The extent to which the results varied with habitat, taxon of species studied or the ecological response measured was also considered.

Quantitative analysis of the climate change adaptation database has suggested that interventions are on average successful 70% of the time. Management targeted at specific species was more effective than land/water management or site/area protection, with the first two significantly more effective than expected by chance. Effectiveness did not vary in response to different climatic threats, habitats or taxa, and so these results can be generalised. Projections of climate-related extinction risk should therefore not be viewed fatalistically, but instead should act as a call to action. To maximise the likelihood of persistence of particular climate vulnerable species, conservation organisations should prioritise species-focussed interventions, whilst measures to protect and manage habitats, although less efficacious for individual species, may also maximise the chances of large numbers of species adapting to climate change.

We are in the process of submitting these results to a scientific journal. When published, this will be accompanied by a summary for policy-makers and practitioners that will be available from this site. Results will also be disseminated through the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group to a wide network of international conservation organisations. We have also sought further resourcing to help disseminate these results further to conservation practitioners, for example through a series of workshops, but so far unsuccessfully.

The final impact of the project will depend upon eventual publication in a high impact journal and the resulting dissemination of the findings. It is hoped that it will significantly raise awareness of the potential for conservation action to help species to adapt to climate change, and therefore act as a catalyst for action, as well as the development of ongoing guidance and approaches to support conservation in a changing climate.

Having project group members from a good range of conservation organisations and backgrounds has allowed this project to progress smoothly and efficiently. The direct link to the Conservation Evidence team has worked extremely well as they provided easy access to their evidence databases, for both studies testing interventions that had  already been summarised and published online and references that had been pre-selected for potential inclusion in future synopses of evidence. Holding meetings with an external Project Advisory Group opened up additional resources, experience and critical appraisal of the project’s goals and directions. These meetings, along with numerous email discussions, provided a solid base for our project’s progression and expected dissemination of our results.