Protected areas such as nature reserves, national parks, or wilderness regions are crucial for conserving biodiversity. However, due to climate change, many plant and animal species from specific protected areas will need to change their habitats, in order to find more favorable conditions.
A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters has provided new insights for developing climate-smart conservation strategies. By investigating the global network of protected areas, the researchers have evaluated the potential for shifts in where plants and animals live due to climate change. Their findings suggest that there is a need for strategic conservation plans that transcend international borders and protect endangered species.
“As the planet continues to warm, we expect a number of species to move out of some protected areas and into others as they shift their ranges in response to climate change,” said study lead author Sean Parks, a research ecologist at the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Dr. Parks and his colleagues have found that some species that are currently in protected areas may soon need to cross international boundaries in order to find more suitable climate conditions. During such migrations, they might face both physical and non-physical barriers, from border fences to inconsistent conservation policies in different regions and countries.
Under a scenario of 2°C warming above pre-industrial levels, climate conditions are expected to change in over a quarter of the current land-based global network of protected areas. Better understanding these climatic shifts and the ways in which they will impact the plants and animals from these areas will help the international conservation community efficiently forecast planning needs and make more strategic investment decisions for the limited funding that is currently available for conservation initiatives.
“The Rocky Mountain Research Station is committed to addressing the threat of climate change, by providing research needed to support new strategies for stewarding protected areas and other wildlands within the United States and internationally,” concluded Jason Taylor, the Director of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute.