Advances in Understanding and Applying Adaptive Capacity to Improve Adaptation Outcomes

Advances in Understanding and Applying Adaptive Capacity to Improve Adaptation Outcomes

Bruce A Stein
National Wildlife Federation
Time Slot: 
Concurrent Sessions 1
Session Type: 

Nature’s response to climate change is full of surprises, and understanding the ability of species and systems to cope with or adjust to these changes—adaptive capacity—is key to effective adaptation. Although adaptive capacity is a core component of many climate-vulnerability frameworks, the concept has proven challenging to apply in practice. This symposium will explore advances in understanding and applying the concept of adaptive capacity in vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning. In 2016, a workgroup convened at a previous National Adaptation Forum published a highly cited paper offering new insights into the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic factors in species adaptive capacity. Research since has focused on understanding which species-level attributes may confer an ability to cope with or adjust to changing conditions, and how to operationalize these concepts. This symposium will highlight new research and emerging findings on the nature of adaptive capacity, and how these can be translated into real world adaptation applications. The symposium will start with an introduction and review of key concepts underlying adaptive capacity, including its historical development and usage, and the application of ecological niche theory as an analog for distinguishing between the “fundamental” and “realized” adaptive capacity of species. Speakers will then describe a new attribute-based framework for evaluating adaptive capacity and for operationalizing the concept for species; the role of evolution and genetics in adaptive responses; and the translation of these concepts for management application for enhancing the intrinsic and extrinsic adaptive capacity of species.


Advances in understanding adaptive capacity -- An introduction
Bruce A Stein, National Wildlife Federation
hide abstract

Effective climate adaptation relies on a sound understanding of climate vulnerabilities and risks, and adaptive capacity is a key component of the most widely used framework for assessing climate vulnerability. Adaptive capacity can generally be understood as the ability of a species or system to cope with or adjust to changing conditions. The concept, however, has been challenging to operationalize and apply in practice. This talk will provide an introduction and overview of recent advances in understanding species-level adaptive capacity in order to set the context for subsequent talks in this symposium. To do so, the talk will review the adaptive capacity framework recently proposed by Beever et al. (2016), which borrows from Hutchinsonian ecological niche theory to distinguish between "fundamental" and "realized" adaptive capacity. The talk will also introduce the work of an on-going USGS-led adaptive capacity workgroup, and provide an overview of how that workgroup is characterizing "persist in place" and "shift in space" as dual pathways for adaptive capacity responses in species.

A new attributes-based framework for evaluating and visualizing species adaptive capacity
Lindsey Leigh Thurman, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Bruce Stein, National Wildlife Federation
  • Erik Beever, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Wendy Foden, South African National Parks
  • Sonya Geange, Australian National University
  • Nancy Green, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • John Gross, National Park Service
  • David Lawrence, National Park Service
  • Olivia LeDee, Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center
  • Julian Olden, University of Washington
  • Laura Thompson, National Climate Adaptation Science Center
  • Bruce Young, NatureServe
hide abstract

Species vulnerability assessments – typically evaluating the factors of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity – can inform both adaptation planning and climate-smart conservation. Adaptive capacity (AC) is a species’ ability to cope with or adjust to changing climatic conditions and is the least understood and implemented of these components. Evaluations of AC have been inconsistent and underutilized. We developed an attribute-based framework and guidance for evaluating species’ AC, and in doing so identify two general classes of AC responses: “persist in place” and “shift in space”. “Persist in place” attributes enable species to survive and reproduce in situ. “Shift in space” emphasizes attributes that allow tracking of suitable bioclimatic conditions. We provide guidance for assessing AC attributes and demonstrate applications for suites of species with similar life histories. Results illustrate the broad applicability of this first generalized framework for assessing AC and reveal opportunities and challenges to conserving species amidst a changing climate.

Exploring the role of evolution in adaptive responses to climate change
Laura M. Thompson, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Andrew Battles, Postdoctoral researcher
  • Erik A. Beever, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Carly Cook, Monash University
  • Nancy Green, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • John Gross, National Park Service
  • Kimberley Hall, The Nature Conservancy
  • Andrew Hendry, McGill University
  • Ary A. Hoffmann, University of Melbourne
  • Christopher Hoving, Michigan Department of Natural Resources
  • Olivia E. LeDee, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Claudia Mengelt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Adrienne Nicotra, Australian National University
  • John O'Leary, Retired
  • Felipe Pérez-Jvostov, McGill University
  • Rebecca Quinones, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife
  • Gregor Schuurman, National Park Service
  • Carla Sgrò, Monash University
  • Jennifer Szymanski, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Lindsey Thurman, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Andrew Whiteley, University of Montana
hide abstract

Accounting for evolution in climate-adaptation planning is uncommon and, despite the plethora of information on evolutionary responses to climate variability and change, the science is often detached from application. After soliciting information from a team of natural resource practitioners and evolutionary biologists/molecular ecologists, we identified a set of specific knowledge needs, relevant science and guidance to inform some of those knowledge needs, and knowledge gaps that require more research. This effort showed that practitioners need detailed information on 1) tangible species’ attributes that may confer their potential for evolutionary response to climate change, and 2) how to measure them. Researchers identified attributes, including genetic diversity (and associated proxies), gene flow, and generation time, that may affect evolutionary potential under contemporary climate change and illustrated how they can be measured either directly or indirectly. Additionally, researchers highlighted existing guidance that can be used by natural resource managers for enhancing a population's capacity for evolutionary change. Finally, the potential for unintended consequences of management actions that may work against evolution were identified, in tandem with the caveats that may be associated with decision making that incorporates an evolutionary lens.

New approaches for enhancing the intrinsic adaptive capacity of species and populations
Christopher Hoving, Michigan Dept of Natural Resources
  • Lindsey L Thurman, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Claudia Mengelt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Eric A Beever, U.S. Geological Service
  • John E Gross, National Park Service
  • Julian D Olden, University of Washington
  • Gregor W Schuurman, National Park Service
  • Laura M Thompson, U.S. Geological Survey
  • Bea Van Horne, U.S. Forest Service
hide abstract

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments (CCVAs) remain a common approach to evaluate potential climate change impacts on species. CCVAs assess exposure, sensitivity, and species’ adaptive capacity (AC), which is the ability of a species to cope with or adjust to new conditions. Because sensitivity and exposure are not within a natural resource manager’s decision-space, most adaptation actions that managers can implement address some aspect of AC. However, CCVAs rarely assess AC explicitly, which makes operationalizing CCVAs difficult for managers. We engaged a set of managers that had completed climate change-related training by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center. Based on input from those managers, we developed guidance on addressing and facilitating species’ AC. By explicitly linking species’ AC traits and management options, our framework translates intrinsic and extrinsic adaptive capacity into actions that natural resource managers can take to help conserve species in a changing climate.