Adapting Conservation Practice In The Face of Climate Change

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23rd Sep 2019 Environmental Studies Reference this


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Adapting Conservation Practice In The Face of Climate Change

Colloff et al., 2017 remark on how lack of stakeholder engagement in many conservation initiatives can setback Transformative Adaptation. There is much literature to support this statement. For example, regarding species reintroduction, many stakeholders fear a radical change to the status quo (Arts et al., 2011) and lacking effective consultation often leads to resentment and feelings of disempowerment (Cairns & Hamblin. 2007). Therefore, rigorous consultation between key stakeholders is paramount. Otherwise, stakeholders could act uncooperatively or even destructively. This is exemplified by the slow progress associated with the Irish Sea Eagle reintroduction, where insufficient initial consultation led to some landowners illegally persecuting the raptors (O’Rourke. 2014). Colloff et al highlight another hindrance to Transformative Adaptation, “insufficient monitoring” of conservation projects. They suggest more rigorous, long-term monitoring is essential for conservation practice in the face of anthropogenic climate change.

Jordan & Hoffmann. 2017 compliment the sentiments of Colloff et al in proposing Transformative Adaptation, that requires long term follow-up of ecosystem functions, implemented on a large spatial scale. They propose designing “Climate Future Plots” (CF plots), theorized to improve climate resilience of ecosystems, making them “climate ready”. CF plots would help tackle vagaries associated with ecosystem responses to climate change, whilst determining the best conservation methods. Expansion of habitat is integral, facilitating increased genetic diversity of plants, thus improving their resilience to climate change. Colloff et al claim anthropogenically induced ecosystem change is always “unpredictable and irreversible”, however there are select examples which contradict this statement (Terborgh & Estes. 2010). 

The collapse and revival of Yellowstone’s ecosystem proves that the course of habitat change can be understood and reversed (Monbiot. 2013). Wolves were extirpated from the National Park in 1926 and their 69-year absence adversely impacted the ecosystem (Terborgh & Estes. 2010). The resident Elk population increased to unnaturally high levels, resulting in overgrazing. Subsequently, due to lacking tree sapling recruitment, beavers could no longer feed or build dams and declined (Beschta & Ripple. 2006). This reduced Cutthroat Trout populations, because the absence of beaver dams and riparian woodland increased river water velocity, reducing the availability of suitable spawning grounds (Monbiot. 2013). Consequently, trout populations dwindled and species reliant on them, such as Bald Eagles, also declined. This negative process reversed following the reintroduction of wolves in 1995. The ‘landscape of fear effect’ prevented deer from stagnating in certain areas, keeping animals on the move and causing them to completely avoid particular locations (Manning et al., 2009). Resultantly, more trees became available to beavers, which recolonised the park (Beschta & Ripple. 2012). The return of riparian woodland and dams caused rivers to meander again, which increased trout abundancy and consequently, Bald Eagles increased (Monbiot. 2013). Wolves impacted species ranging from small birds to Grizzly Bears, by allowing increased growth of berry producing vegetation (Bridgeland et al., 2010). Through interspecific competition, wolves reduced Red Fox populations, causing increases in ground nesting birds. Ironically, even elk benefited, because wolves essentially reduced intraspecific competition for food between individuals and led to genetically stronger stock due to preferentially hunting weaker deer (Beschta & Ripple. 2012).

Yellowstone illustrates how it is possible to reverse negative ecosystem change in certain circumstances. However, the authors validly emphasise ecosystem changes will become increasingly irreversible due to the combined effects of climate change and other anthropogenic stressors (Colloff et al., 2017). A stark pre-historical example is the Woolly Mammoth extinction. The end of the Younger Dryas 11,500 years ago, heralded rapid global warming, causing tundra to convert into boreal forest and swamps, habitats insufficient for Woolly Mammoths (Nogués-Bravo et al., 2008). However, suitable habitat remained in northern Siberia and Alaska during extinction. Although climate change reduced the mammoth’s tundra habitat, it was the combination of this with hunting by humans, which drove the species to extinction. Equivalent Modern-day examples, such as the rapid decline of Monarch Butterflies (Davis & Dyer. 2015), further emphasise the urgent need for Transformative Adaptation proposed by Colloff et al.

Word Count (Excluding Title and Bibliography): 654


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