Managing Landscapes for Adaptive Capacity: Tools and Strategies for Identifying, Conserving and Connecting Climate Refugia

Managing Landscapes for Adaptive Capacity: Tools and Strategies for Identifying, Conserving and Connecting Climate Refugia

Carlos Carroll
Klamath Center for Conservation Research (KCCR)
Time Slot: 
Concurrent Sessions 2
Session Type: 

The unprecedented challenge of climate change has led managers to seek new ways to identify areas where conservation could facilitate persistence of biodiversity. However, the novelty, uncertainty, and coarse spatial scale of climate science results make them difficult to translate into practical action on-the-ground. Using climate-change refugia conservation as an adaptation strategy requires identifying areas that are relatively buffered from warming temperatures. However, many other components of climate change must also be considered, including changing patterns of hydrology, disturbance (e.g., fire, drought, pests/pathogens), population demographics and genetics, species interactions, dispersal/migration patterns, and adaptive responses to changing environmental conditions. In this session, speakers will present the cutting edge in our ability to identify, manage, and connect climate change refugia and to maximize landscape-level adaptive capacity. The session will provide information on a suite of emerging techniques and foster a conversation about the role of climate-change refugia in adapting our management of ecosystems as a response to changing environmental conditions. Speakers from federal and state agencies, academia, and the non-profit sector will present examples from the US and Canada of how climate-change refugia are being integrated into regional planning. The goal of the session is to help build connections between researchers, planners, land managers, and others interested in conserving adaptive capacity across broad landscapes.

Cross-Cutting Themes: 


Success stories of on-the-ground climate change refugia conservation
Toni Lyn Morelli, USGS
  • Aaron Ramirez, Reed College
  • Rebecca Quinones, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife
  • Benjamin Letcher, U.S. Geological Survey
  • James Thorne, U.C. Davis
  • Cameron Barrows, University of California - Riverside
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Scientists and natural resource managers are increasingly working together to identify ways to reduce the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. One of the primary climate adaptation tactics is the conservation of climate change refugia, areas that remain relatively buffered from contemporary climate change over time and enable persistence of valued physical, ecological, and socio-cultural resources. Frameworks have been laid out for how to incorporate refugia into climate change adaptation. Recent advances are making refugia identification more realistic and relevant by considering many other components of global change biology including hydrologic change, disturbance (fire, drought, pests/pathogens), population demographics and genetics, interspecies interactions, dispersal and migration, and adaptive responses to changing environmental conditions. Novel research tools, including new methods for modeling habitat suitability and vulnerability to climate change, use of remote sensing data to map areas resistant to disturbance, and greater integration of biophysical and ecological data, are developing. This presentation will briefly synthesize these newest developments and then highlight examples from around the U.S., including in freshwater, desert, and forest ecosystems, showing how climate change refugia identification has led to improved conservation on the ground. Translation ecology and knowledge coproduction approaches, along with citizen science, are bringing the complex and seemingly abstract science of refugia to inform and improve natural resource decisions related to land protection, invasive species treatment, recreation management, and a host of other conservation challenges.

Understanding and using climate-adaptation-related spatial data in regional conservation planning
Carlos Carroll, Klamath Center for Conservation Research
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The unprecedented challenge of climate change has led managers to search for new types of information for identifying areas whose conservation would facilitate persistence of biodiversity in the face of this novel threat. However, the uncertainty and complexity of climate science make it difficult to translate into practical action on-the-ground. Many components of climate change must be considered, including temperature shifts, hydrologic changes, disturbances (e.g., fire, drought, pests/pathogens), population demographics and genetics, interspecies interactions, dispersal/migration patterns, and adaptive responses to changing environmental conditions. AdaptWest is a spatial database and synthesis of methods for conservation planning that helps address such information needs by providing data on a variety of climate-related metrics and detailed background context for evaluating the utility of different metrics in the context of a particular planning process. I will discuss several recently developed datasets available on and how they can be used in climate adaptation planning. These datasets include downscaled climate data, climate velocity, locations of refugia for species and climate types, environmental diversity, and land facet data. A further goal of the talk is to help build connections between researchers, planners, land managers, and others interested in conserving adaptive capacity across broad landscapes.

A framework for identifying and managing climate-change refugia in the boreal region
Diana Stralberg, University of Alberta
  • Scott E. Nielsen, University of Alberta / Renewable Resources Dept
  • David Price, Canadian Forest Service
  • Julienne Morissette, Canadian Forest Service
  • Marc Parisien, Canadian Forest Service
  • Daniel Thompson, Canadian Forest Service
  • Fiona Schmiegelow, University of Alberta / Renewable Resources Dept
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The vast boreal biome, which plays an important role in the global carbon cycle, is experiencing particularly rapid climate warming, threatening the integrity of valued ecosystems and their component species. We developed a framework and taxonomy to identify climate-change refugia potential in the North American boreal region, summarizing current knowledge regarding mechanisms, spatial scale, geographic distribution, and potential landscape indicators. While “terrain-mediated” refugia from climate change are likely to be mostly limited to coastal and mountain regions, the ecological inertia contained in some boreal ecosystems may provide more extensive buffering against climate change, resulting in “ecosystem-protected” refugia. A key example is boreal peatlands, which retain high surface soil moisture and water tables. Refugia from wildfire are also especially relevant in the boreal region, which is characterized by active disturbance regimes. Our framework may help identify areas of high refugia potential, thereby informing climate-smart ecosystem management and conservation planning.

Finding and managing hydrologic refugia as drought patterns change
Jennifer Cartwright, USGS
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Droughts are expected to increase in frequency and intensity across much of the western United States because of climate change. Hydrologic refugia are areas where moisture conditions are relatively decoupled from regional climate variability. Recent studies have used remote-sensing metrics of vegetation condition to make inferences about geographic patterns of drought sensitivity and ecohydrologic stability through time. These patterns can then be linked to a process-based understanding of how water is routed and stored at the landscape scale to evaluate the roles of landscape features to support hydrologic refugia. Features that may be associated with hydrologic refugia include areas of reduced evaporative demand or delayed snowmelt (e.g., on cooler, topographically shaded slopes), soils with large water-holding capacity, and zones of groundwater discharge in springs, streams, and riparian areas. As drought patterns change, identifying and conserving hydrologic refugia may become increasingly important to support climate resilience in natural communities.

Identifying riparian climate corridors to inform climate adaptation planning
Meade Krosby, University of Washington
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Riparian habitats have been frequently identified as priority areas for conservation under climate change because they span climatic gradients and have cool, moist microclimates relative to surrounding areas. They are therefore expected to act as dispersal corridors for climate-induced species range shifts and to provide microclimatic refugia from warming. Despite recognition of these values, rigorous methods to identify which riparian areas are most likely to facilitate range shifts and provide refugia are currently lacking. We calculated a novel index of climate adaptation value for potential riparian areas across the Pacific Northwest, USA, that identifies those potential riparian areas featuring characteristics expected to enhance their ability to facilitate range shifts and provide refugia. We found that index values are highest within mountainous areas and lowest within relatively flat, lowland regions. We also calculated index values within ecoregions, to better identify high-value riparian climate corridors within the relatively flat, degraded areas where they may most contribute to climate adaptation. We found that high-value riparian climate corridors are least protected in flat, lowland areas, suggesting that such corridors should be high priorities for future conservation effort. Our analysis may be used to guide climate adaptation efforts (and riparian management and restoration efforts) in the Pacific Northwest, while offering a novel approach that may be applied to similar efforts in other geographies.

Creating robust climate adaptation strategies in the face of uncertainty
Travis Belote, The Wilderness Society
  • Anne A Carlson, The Wilderness Society
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We have been working across spatial scales to bring data to bear on national conservation planning and prioritization while simultaneously informing local adaptation action. At broad scales, we developed a national map of wildland conservation values based on ecological integrity, connectivity between protected areas, and priorities for better representing biological diversity in conservation reserves. Next, we overlaid maps of climate change vulnerability to identify high value lands that are expected to experience either relatively high or low climate exposure. Using the maps of values and vulnerability, we identified opportunities for additional conservation protection, restoration, and innovation at national scales. After factoring in agreement among models, we recommend experimental approaches to climate adaptation that acknowledge uncertainty and focus on local multidisciplinary assessments of ecological conditions and climate considerations. One such example involves the Crown of the Continent Climate Adaptation Partnership; where we have tested these ideas in an 18-million acre, transboundary, Canadian-American landscape. Working collaboratively with more than 70 state, federal and provincial agencies; Tribes and First Nations; NGO’s; universities; citizen groups; timber and mining companies; and private land trusts; we are developing and implementing on-the-ground climate adaptation strategies for seven natural resource priorities. Developing and delivering the best available science to managers and decision-makers for each priority (i.e. whitebark pine forests; cold, clean water; forest carnivores; aquatic and terrestrial invasive species; wildfire and prescribed fire; and ecological connectivity) requires layering local datasets onto national datasets to facilitate development of landscape-scale conservation blueprints for action by all stakeholders.