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Researchers present decision framework for determining if and when to relocate species because of climate change

Relocating species threatened by climate change—managed relocation, also known as assisted colonization—is a controversial strategy for maintaining biodiversity. In a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers from CSIRO, University of Queensland and United States Geological Survey present a pragmatic decision framework for determining when, if ever, to move species in the face of climate change.

Managed relocation, also known as assisted colonization, of species involves moving plants or animals from an area that is, or will become, untenable because of climate change, to areas where there are more suitable climatic conditions but in which the plants or animals have not occurred previously.

As our climate changes more rapidly than species can adapt or disperse, natural resource managers increasingly want to know what adaptation options are available to help them conserve biodiversity. While the virtues of managed relocation of species are being debated by the scientific community, the reality is that it is already occurring.

The decision-making framework we have developed shows that the best timing for moving species depends on many factors such as: the size of the population, the expected losses in the population through relocation, and the expected numbers that the new location could be expected to support.

It would also rely on good predictions about the impact of climate shifts on a particular species and the suitability of areas to which they can move—an often difficult issue in the case of rare species because we just don’t have this sort of detailed information.

—Dr Eve McDonald-Madden, co-author, CSIRO researcher and research fellow at the University of Queensland

CSIRO researcher Dr Tara Martin said monitoring and learning about how potentially climate change-affected plants and animals function in their native ecosystems will play a crucial role in ensuring that managed relocation plans succeed.

Active adaptive management is important when we are unsure of what the climatic changes are likely to be in the current habitat. Our framework provides managers with a rational basis for making timely decisions under uncertainty to ensure species persistence in the long-term.

Without relocating species we are destined to lose some of our most important and iconic wildlife, but at the end of the day we also need viable ecosystems into which we can move species. Managed relocation is not a quick fix. It will be used in some specific circumstances for species that we really care about, but it will not be a saviour for all biodiversity in the face of climate change.

—Dr Tara Martin

This work was funded by: Climate Adaptation Flagship, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences; ARC Centre for Excellence in Environmental Decisions, University of Queensland; School of Biological Sciences, The Ecology Centre, University of Queensland; United States Geological Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center; and the Australian Centre of Excellence for Risk Analysis, University of Melbourne.

Resources

  • Eve McDonald-Madden, Michael C. Runge, Hugh P. Possingham & Tara G. Martin (2011) Optimal timing for managed relocation of species faced with climate change. Nature Climate Change doi: 10.1038/nclimate1170

Comments

Engineer-Poet

Making certain that symbionts, such as pollinators and fungi for plants, also relocate successfully sounds like a difficult task.

What happens if the new territory becomes inhospitable again before the relocated populations reach reproductive maturity? Giant redwoods do not seem like good prospects for survival.

danm

Let's stick with "Green car" news and avoid the quagmire of climate change.

kelly

Maybe failed Green cars make the quagmire of climate change:?)

Roger Pham

"Relocating species threatened by climate change—managed relocation, also known as assisted colonization..." LOL

Well, start building a big space ship to Mars, and gather up animals in pairs like Noah did, he he he...

Or, we can get our acts together to halt fossil fuel consumption to lower the carbon footprint; and to eat less meats and more veggies in order to reduce the methane footprint released by ruminating livestocks.
"Eat more chickin" will be the initial step from weaning off from red meats, but ultimately, I'd say: "Eat more veggies," drink soy milk instead of cow's or goat's milk!

sheckyvegas

For centuries, the American armadillo was known throughout the American South and in Florida. Mid- to South-Texas, too, had their versions of this little creature.
Now, due to rising temperatures and climate change, the armadillo can be found as far north as mid-Missouri and Illinois.
Back off, chuckle-heads. Nature can take care of its own.

ai_vin

Trees don't have legs.

Ok jokes aside, nature CAN take care of its own, if it's unimpeded. However highways, urban sprawl and farmland all work to slow the spread of some animals and plants.

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