General adaptation strategies

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Description of General Adaptation Strategies

The vast majority of the proposed strategies found in the literature for managing resources in a changing climate are general concepts. These concepts fall loosely into three basic types of strategies: those promoting resistance, resilience, and facilitation (Galatowitsch et al., 2010; Millar et al., 2007). The first strategy, resistance, is essentially promoting a system’s ability to remain unchanged in the face of external forces (Lawler, 2009). Secondly, resilience can be defined as the ability of a system to recover from perturbations (Holling, 1973). In the context of climate change, systems that are more resilient are those that are better able to adapt to changes in climate. Systems, or species, that are more resilient will continue to function, although potentially differently, in an altered climate. Less resilient systems will likely undergo messy transitions to new states, potentially resulting in the loss of ecosystem functioning, populations, or even species (Lawler, 2009). Strategies in the third category, facilitation, are designed to help move a system from one state to another. The most commonly recommended strategies for promoting resistance, resilience, and facilitation are briefly discussed below and are the basis for many of the community-specific strategies that are recommended in this document.

General Strategies to promote resistance, resilience, and facilitation of change in natural communities

  • Removal of other, non-climate-related threats to a species or system and reducing other stresses on species: reduces the impact of threats such as exotic species, habitat loss and fragmentation, overharvest and generally results in larger populations that will likely be better able to absorb perturbations (Rogers and McCarty 2000; Noss 2001; Soto 2001).
  • Expanding reserve networks: provides systems and species with room to move and places to go (also included increasing the size of existing reserves, adding buffers around existing reserves, and adding larger reserves to reserve networks). Larger reserves are more likely to preserve a greater diversity of environmental conditions and allow for movement within the reserve (Lawler, 2009). Increasing redundancy within the reserve network can also promote resilience by providing more opportunities in different places or chances in which species or communities might persist (Halpin, 1997; Shafer, 1999).
  • Increasing connectivity: removes barriers that make it difficult for species to move from areas that become unsuitable, enhancing the ability of climate sensitive species to migrate and occupy new climatic zones or habitats that emerge in the future (Hulme, 2005; Welch, 2005).
  • Restoring Habitat and System Dynamics: restores ecosystem functioning and habitats in degraded to increase resilience for systems and species. With respect to climate change, however, the basic tenets of restoration that focuses on returning communities to historic or pre-disturbance conditions and uses a species-based approach of restoring species composition may be costly and potentially ineffective (Lawler, 2009; Harris et al., 2006). Many ecologists have suggested shifting the focus of restoration ecology toward ecosystem services because ecosystems can be managed in a more flexible way in which species assemblages change with changing climates, but ecosystem functioning, although the nature of those functions might change, is still preserved (e.g., Hartig et al., 1997; Noss, 2001; Harris et al., 2006; Lawler, 2009).
  • Adaptive Management: uses management actions that are applied as experiments, the system is monitored, and actions are then potentially changed to address changes in the state of the system. Both passive adaptive management, that is building a management strategy based on historic data and then altering that strategy with new data as the system is monitored over time, as well as active adaptive management, described as conscious experimentation and exploring the outcomes of multiple management strategies will likely be needed to address climate change (Kareiva et al., 2008; Lawler, 2009).
  • Translocations: allows species with limited dispersal abilities and small, isolated ranges that will have trouble migrating and shifting habitats, or those may be left without suitable habitat altogether, to continue to persist within a region (e.g., Orians, 1993; Guldberg et al., 2008; Vitt et al., 2010)


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Hartig, E.K., Grozev, O., Rosenzweig, C., 1997. Climate change, agriculture and wetlands in eastern Europe: vulnerability, adaptation and policy. Climatic Change 36: 107–121.

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