Retention and restoration priorities for climate adaptation in a multi-use landscape

Retaining and restoring habitat in areas that will remain climatically suitable through time is a key strategy for helping species' adapt to climate change - particularly in multi-use landscapes where species' find it difficult to track suitable climates. We advance on existing climate-smart conservation planning studies to identify retention and restoration priorities for potential climate change refugia sites in a vast multi-use landscape. We illustrate our approach for Australia's Great Dividing Range (GDR), where the entire habitat of 26 vertebrate species – including 11 endemics – will be climatically unsuitable by the year 2085 under a high emissions scenario. We developed two planning scenarios to secure areas that will remain climatically suitable for an additional 1036 vertebrate species in the GDR – a scenario that permits both the retention of high quality habitat and the restoration of land currently used for forestry or agriculture (i.e. ‘balanced’) and a scenario that favours the retention of high quality habitat above land restoration efforts (i.e. ‘retention-focused’). For both planning scenarios, we identified priority conservation areas that will complement existing protected areas in the GDR and then compared ecological trade-offs associated with adopting a balanced or retention-focused approach to conservation. We found that a retention-focused approach would deliver equivalent ecological benefits for most species, and enhanced conservation of climatically suitable area for 95 other species, when compared to a balanced planning approach. Under a balanced planning approach, seventy-four percent of high priority conservation area (49,650 km2) would overlap with forestry or agricultural land-uses, and hence will require extensive restoration efforts to serve as habitat for climate-imperilled species. However, we found that at least 270 species in the GDR rely heavily on ecological restoration of agricultural lands to persist under climate change. Our study provides immediate guidance for on-ground management actions, and provides a robust methodology that can support climate change adaptation decisions in multi-use landscapes around the world.

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