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How can we save species from climate change?

Human forced climate change is affecting biodiversity in many ways, including changes in species ranges, mass coral bleaching events, and changes in timing of biological events (e.g. breeding or fruiting seasons). Additionally, human responses to climate change are also threatening biodiversity, through agricultural expansion, construction of seawalls and changes in fishing areas. These affects are likely to worsen in the future, with climate change likely to become the main cause of species extinction over the coming century.

The need for conservation scientists to deal with the challenges posed by climate change is widely recognised, and numerous approaches have been developed to spatially allocate conservation resources to do so. In a recent study written by myself and colleagues from UQ and WCS, we review spatial conservation prioritisation approaches used to incorporate climate change, examining the impacts and timeframes, and methods used. We found that the vast majority (96%) of spatial prioritisation articles don't incorporate any aspect of climate change, and the few which do almost completely ignore human responses and extreme events caused by climate change. We also assessed the methods used in each paper, finding that the majority forecasted species distributions and aimed to either protect future species habitats or identify areas where climate change will have the least effect.​

Despite numerous mandates and calls for climate change to be incorporated into conservation planning, the methods available for conservation planners remain few, and ignore some of the most harmful aspects of climate change. While identifying how species will respond to climate change is important, this research highlights the urgent need for planning methods that incorporate the full range of climate impacts, which will give biodiversity the best shot at surviving rapid climate change.

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