Adapt or die: cost-effective conservation?

On the tails of the recent IPCC report, the question is: what next? New research about mapping climate change vulnerability might help address how, and where, we channel our conservation efforts. The problem, say the researchers, is that former assessments have not taken into account how species are impacted by past and current human actions.

Using a new approach that does take account of this, they have found that the areas most vulnerable are not those usually reported – instead, their findings highlight southern and southeastern Asia, western and central Europe, eastern South America, and southern Australia as some of the most vulnerable regions. Moreover, they looked at how we might spend our conservation funds wisely: in addition to identifying vulnerable regions, they identified which regions were stable or unstable in terms of ecosystems and high or low in vegetation, the idea being that stable, highly-vegetated ecosystems stand a better chance of being salvaged – retaining species – and are therefore a wise use of limited funds.

Areas of high stability but low vegetation might benefit from efforts at habitat restoration. Places with low stability and low vegetation, however, will require substantial restoration and funds, with a lower chance of retaining species. Southern Australia was noted as being one of the most vulnerable regions, but one with high stability and high vegetation intactness, and therefore potentially a good place to focus conservation efforts.