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Global warming: Can species be saved with relocations?

Conservation biologists are debating whether to relocate species like the golden bowerbird to ensure their survival in the face of climate change. PHOTO COURTESY CSIRO.

Researchers try to spell out a rational plan for so-called assisted colonization in the face of climate change

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As global warming causes ever-greater disruption to plants and animals, conservation biologists are having serious discussions about how and when to relocate species so they they can survive for the long-term.

If society values them enough, some species threatened by climate disruption could benefit from immediate relocation, especially small and vulnerable populations that need time to grow before risking translocation losses, an international group of researchers wrote in a climate change journal article published this week.

The paper is an effort at creating a pragmatic framework for deciding when, if ever, to move species in the face of climate change. University of Queensland and United States Geological Survey researchers also contributed to the research.

“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,” said Dr. Eve McDonald-Madden, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

Managed relocation 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. It’s sometimes called assisted colonization.

“Without relocating species we are destined to lose some of our most important and iconic wildlife” said CSIRO researcher Dr. Tara Martin. “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,” she said, explaining that there are many unanswered questions about how rare species would fare in relocation areas. Detailed science in this field is still in short supply.

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,” Martin said.

“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 Martin said.

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11 Responses

  1. What a brilliant idea! Removing species from their natural habitats and relocating them to
    climate change “safe zones” that will be unnafected by the deveatating GLOBAL warming we will undoubtedly start experiencing in the next few decades. I suppose you have some other planet in mind?

  2. This is a silly article in that “Global Warming” will continue as long as we spew carbon emissions in the atmosphere as an open sewer. Already ocean acidification has lowered the ph by 1/3, making the waters less alkaline. How are we to relocate marine life? Another delaying action that seems to be tackling the problem.

  3. Well now, this is another way, eliminate the human race from the equation. Then Mother Nature can take care of the problem. Simple!

  4. I would have suggested to the Summit Voice that before it editorializes on species relocation plans – which assume human-caused global warming will run amok – it ought to at least educate its readers on how skeptic climate scientists and reports like the NIPCC 2009 ( http://www.nipccreport.org/reports/2009/2009report.html ) have been completely disproved.

    I wrote about this overall problem with the media in my article “Will MSM Look into the Global Warming Abyss and Find Their Character?” http://bigjournalism.com/rcook/2011/06/07/will-msm-look-into-the-global-warming-abyss-and-find-their-character/

    • Russell, there really is no legitimate scientific debate on climate change and global warming, no matter how many comments the deniers — or skeptics, if you prefer — post every time a global warming story appears somewhere. Global warming is not a “he said-she said story anymore. There’s no good reason in my journalistic judgment to offer a climate skeptic viewpoint on species relocation. Global warming is happening, species are being lost, habitat is being impacted, legitimate scientists are debating whether, how and if species should be relocated to try and preserve biodiversity. That’s an interesting debate, but not whether global warming is real or not.

      • Bob, indeed you are correct, but in what appears to be a nuanced way: skeptic scientists do not disagree in any significant numbers that I know of about climate change or global warming NOT happening. To call them deniers on that is arguably misleading. They instead are saying that humans have an insignificant role in what is more likely a natural phenomenon, which is entirely the conclusion of the NIPCC 2009 Report. When such skeptics say cycles of warming and cooling occur naturally throughout history, I’d say that would be a very good reason to include one in your article, in order to point out the potentially needless waste of money that would be spent on species relocation, if global warming can be proven to be an occurrence that would have happened no matter what humans do.

        Again, nobody on the skeptic side that I know of is saying that overall global warming is not happening. Some are saying the warming has slowed or stopped over the last decade, and point to observations which appear to prove their assessment. If this trend continues, but other people continue on a plan to relocate species using theories and models to the opposite, wouldn’t we doom those species to more harm than good?

        • I think this is prudent science by good researchers and I resist any implication that scientists who do this work are in it for the money. Surely they would choose a different field if that was the case.

          I’ll say it again: There is no legitimate debate about the fact that emissions of greenhouse gases is causing the Earth to warm up faster, and probably to a degree that is unprecedented, at least in recent times. It’s a manufactured debate.

          I understand the tactic of trying to confuse the public and obfuscate the issues by questioning every climate-related article and posting links to other articles and studies that appear superficially to cast doubt.

          But back to the article. With my understanding of conservation biology, I would say that the research and discussions about species relocation could be valuable in any circumstances.

          I didn’t see any of the researchers advocating relocation in this study. It looks to me like they are trying to develop a rational decision-making framework for policy makers who might grapple with the issue some day.

          Global biodiversity loss is a serious environmental issue with or without climate change. It undermines our life support system. But I’m sure that the same folks who question climate change science would say there’s no global biodiversity problem, despite the fact the species extinctions are happening at a pace not seen for millions of years.

      • Bob,

        Your response is one of a true believer, not a scientist.

        • Steve, not sure how you get that from my response; I am not a scientist and I’m not sure why you and Russell want to turn this story into yet another fundamental debate about climate science – oh, wait, actually I DO know why, but never mind.

          As I said, this relocation study seems like a worthwhile effort, just for the sake of science. Say someone offers 100% definitive proof tomorrow that there is global warming – it can’t hurt to know what the options are for saving species if that’s what we want to do.

          You’re certainly right to question whether it’s worthwhile science.This gets into a whole new can of worms. But when I read the comments at your site on your re-posting, it turned me off, because there’s no substance – it’s just all about ridicule. Awesome!

  5. Me again, I like the back & forth here, though I would like to point out that with studies pro or con on any subject, that until the subject is finalized, then those studies are just that, studies. Also, considering when the above papers/studies that R.C. notes, 2009 I believe, are old news as far as science goes. As I pointed out earlier, although rather simplistically, as the human race has increased, the animal kingdom has shrunk, along with the resulting garbage/poisoning of the land/ sea/air. Overloading the planet as is being done today, is something that needs addressing. Considering that when looking back over time, there isn’t much in the way of a written record to refer to, so today’s research with the modern tools used, we get a better picture. Food for thought.

  6. Climate Change has continually made temperature increase, which has significantly affects the natural environment and species. The negative impacts include the cause of forest fire, death of plant because of lack of water, food shortage for animals, disease caused by heat waves, etc. To save species, relocation is definitely a good. As long as the new location has suitable condition for the relocated species, I believe they can survive and develop under well maintain and care. However, there are still many problems needed to work out. How much and where are the suitable areas for the relocated species? How can we guarantee those areas will not be affected by Climate Change or any other damages later? Furthermore, after relocating the species, what do we do with the original place? We may be able to find the answers of the above questions and we properly can find more solutions to save species and deal with the other impacts of climate change; however, the best solution is to prevent it from carbon pollution which is the main reason of climate change.

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