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Land partnerships can protect biodiversity amidst climate change

One of the consequences of climate change that may not be as widely talked about is the forced migration that many species have to undergo. Animals are moving beyond their comfort zones, often to areas of higher latitudes or elevations, in order to increase their chances of long-term survival. This results in challenges for managing the land that has been set aside for habitat protection, as these lands may lose their original conservation value as the climate changes.

Recent research published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE shows that conservation partnerships between protected lands and their non-protected neighbors may greatly improve a region’s ability to accommodate species migration caused by changing climates. The researchers analyzed protected areas recognized by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, quantifying the potential value of conservation partnerships on a global scale. In total, the analysis covered over 150,000 areas – all larger than 6 hectares in size.

The study’s authors examined landscape indicators of the suitability of each protected area to retain biodiversity in the face of climate change, either in potential partnership with nearby protected and non-protected lands or in isolation. These indicators of suitability included range in latitude and elevation, and increase in size needed for species to continue having access to suitable climates in 2070 as climates change.

Results showed that – compared to isolated protected areas – partnerships with other protected and non-protected neighbors might increase the adaptation indicators as much as two orders of magnitude. This suggests significant potential for preserving the environmental conditions that are necessary for sustaining biodiversity. The researchers also highlighted specific regions and biomes that stand to benefit the most from partnerships between protected and non-protected areas. These ranged from montane grasslands and shrublands to the Andes and tropical coniferous forests.

“The partnership areas identified by our study are considerably larger than most protected areas, but a handful of established conservation partnerships – tried and tested over many years – have proven that success is possible,” says William Monahan of the U.S. National Park Service. “By quantifying the conservation benefits of such partnerships, and providing a global blueprint of where they exist, we hope to stimulate the formation of new partnerships that help steward a future for biodiversity conservation.”

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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