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.