New Report: Canada in a Changing Climate – Biodiversity and Protected Areas

Figure 1. Parks close to urban centers, like Thousand Islands National Park act as refuges for species at risk, and provide connectivity to help support shifting ranges associated with climate change.

Figure 1. Parks close to urban centers, like Thousand Islands National Park act as refuges for species at risk, and provide connectivity to help support shifting ranges associated with climate change. (Image credit: Ad Meskins)

I have been lucky to work with Marlow Pellatt at Parks Canada for several years now. He was a member of my thesis committee and we have published a number of papers together (Goring et al., 2009, 2010, 2013; Pellatt et al. 2012). Most recently he invited me to be a contributing author for Natural Resource Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation update along with a number of other researchers including Isabelle Côté, Philip Dearden, Nancy Kingsbury (Environment Canada), Donald McLennan (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada), and Tory Stevens (BC Ministry of the Environment). The lead authors, Patrick Nantel, Marlow Pellatt and Karen Keenleyside (all with Parks Canada), and Paul Gray (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources) did a tremendous job working with us, and helping to get the chapter into its finished form.

The last Adaptation plan was released in 2008 (here), and prior to that in 2004 (here).  The newest report was just released and it includes updates on research in the five years following the 2008 report.  It thus represents the “state of the science” with regards to climate change effects on natural resources, biodiversity, industry, social systems, human health and water availability and transport.

I was a contributing author for Chapter 6: Biodiversity and Protected Areas, where we examined the potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity, the social and economic implications of biodiversity loss, and the role of protected areas in maintaining biodiversity in the face of changing climate.

One of the key findings is that ecological restoration is critical to improve ecosystem resilience, but climate change means that adaptation strategies need to be integrated into these restoration plans, meaning that restoration is less  an end point and more a moving target.  A new paper in Biological Conservation by Balaguer et al. (2014) discusses ecological restoration as a process of guiding ecosystems within a historically based reference system, rather than restoring to an end point.  A similar point is made by Clewell and Aronsen (2013) with regards to the SER Primer on Ecological Restoration:  Restoration is an ongoing process whereby we consider ecosystems as dynamic units.  Given this, if we fail to consider the effects of climate change on ecosystems we’ll never be able to restore them.  Parks Canada itself explicitly acknowledges this by staking out a role for experimentation, modification and adaptation within the process of ecological restoration (Parks Canada, 2008).

But what value does restoration provide?  We know that protected areas tend to be more resilient to change than unprotected ecosystems, and that degraded ecosystems are more prone to natural disasters, leading to greater community vulnerability.  Biodiversity is also tied to human health, for example Hanski et al. (2012) indicated that lower rates of allergies were linked to higher regional biodiversity and Ostfield (2009) has tied declining biodiversity to increased rates of spread for Lyme disease and West Nile virus.  So restoration become a critical component of a landscape that retains some intact ecosystems, but has seen extensive anthropogenic change, particularly in southern Canada.

Figure 2. From Walzer et al. (2013), protected area management must include consideration of natural and management best practices, while considering the needs of the public.  Each of these may at times be at odds with one another, and so interdisciplinary research into each context is required.

Figure 2. From Walzer et al. (2013), protected area management must include consideration of natural and management best practices, while considering the needs of the public. Each of these may at times be at odds with one another, and so interdisciplinary research into each context is required.

The Chapter ultimately stakes out a position that maintaining biodiversity in the face of changing climate requires a process that involves protecting intact ecosystems, connecting protected areas and restoring degraded ecosystems, or ecosystems facing strong external pressures.  This framework helps buffer changes, provides an opportunity for ongoing management in high risk ecosystems, and highlights the need for ongoing targeted scientific advice in the ongoing management of our protected areas to be balanced with fundamental research into the impacts of climate change on ecosystems and communities at a regional and global scale.

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2 thoughts on “New Report: Canada in a Changing Climate – Biodiversity and Protected Areas

  1. Really great post, and glad to know of this report — I’m teaching a “Biodiversity in a Changing World” course this summer. Will use this!

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