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Adaptation option

Adaptive management of natural habitats

Biodiversity provides a wide range of ecosystem services (provisioning, regulation and maintenance, cultural services) which are essential for the human well-being. Among the others, these services play an important role in regulating the climate, thus making a key contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. At the same time human activities are responsible for growing pressures and impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems;  climate changes are expected to massively intensify major threats, further leading to:

  • changes in species abundance and distribution, also as a consequence of modification and loss (e.g. due to sea level rise) of habitats;
  • changes in phenology which may lead to loss of synchrony between species;
  • changes in community composition;
  • changes in ecosystem processes, functions and services;

Conserving biodiversity and maintaining the nature’s capacity to deliver goods and services is a priority at the global scale. Given the links above described, biodiversity and ecosystem service conservation cannot avoid addressing climate change effects. Indeed, this does not only provide the way to reduce climate change impacts on biodiversity, but also contributes to improve the adaptation capacity of the human society through ecosystem-based approaches.

Resilient ecosystems and the services they provide depend on complex, dynamic relationships between species and the environment, which are characterized by numerous non-linear processes. In addition, different influencing factors, such as the potential climate change impacts and the future evolution of socio-economic pressures, together with their uncertainties, must be taken into account when dealing with biodiversity and habitats management. For these reasons, it is advisable to choose a dynamic, adaptive management approach for the protection of biodiversity, ecosystems and the services they provide. The need to move from a static conservation perspective to an adaptive management approach is remarked also by the “Guidelines on climate change and Natura 2000”. The Natura 2000 network includes about 27,000 sites and covers a total surface of more than 1 million of km2. The adoption of an adaptive management of natural habitats is essential for these areas and the wider territory they are part of.

Adaptive management of ecosystems and socio-ecological systems is an iterative process in which management actions are followed by targeted monitoring. It is an ongoing learning process, aiming to increase the adaptive capacity of impacted habitats and endangered species of plants and animals. In the context of climate change, adaptive management involves: (i) the analysis of knowledge of potential climate impacts and associated uncertainty, (ii) the design of actions to cope with such impacts, (iii) the monitoring of climate-sensitive species, habitat, ecosystem services and processes to evaluate management effectiveness, and (iv) the redesign and implementation of improved (or new) management actions. For an effective adaptive management of natural systems under climate change conditions, the following approaches and actions shall be taken in consideration:

  • Understand that natural processes are dynamic and that species are expected to respond individually to climate change effects. Thus, habitat management needs to be flexible, adaptive and specific.
  • Respond to changing conservation priorities (due to climate change) and learn from experiences at local, regional, national and international levels by adapting conservation targets in the different conventions, conservation mechanisms and conservation plans.
  • Mainstream the principles of adaptive management of natural habitats within other management plans and land use strategies to enable or support the natural development of climate resilient ecosystems and promote the services they can provide also in the perspective of climate change adaptation.
  • Engage relevant stakeholders, to illustrate and discuss consequences of different management options for species and ecosystems, highlighting effects on ecosystem services as well. An early and transparent stakeholder engagement can increase the acceptance of actions part of adaptive management on natural habitats, as for example fisheries restriction, restoration of forests or changes in mountain pasture management (e.g. changes in mowing time).
  • Establish targeted monitoring of climate change impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services (e.g. assessing species abundance, migration processes, changes in phenology, etc.) and integrate results of monitoring into management processes in order to continually improve management decisions.
  • Improve the ecological networks through habitat restoration and creation considering simultaneously the current and future conservation areas as well as the potential future threats caused by climate change and other human induced pressures. As response to climate change, some species will move from their current location to others, thus the restoration or creation of protected areas, new habitats, and corridors between patches of habitats should be promoted. In this regard, the concept of green and blue infrastructure support the improvement of ecosystem connectivity, especially in urban and sub-urban areas.
  • Aid gene flow; promoting genetic variability may be vital to enhance species adaptive capacity.

Considering the possibility of implementing species translocation (introduction, re-introduction or restocking) and/or ex-situ conservation. However, it shall be noted that species translocation needs to be based on an in depth evaluation of (long-term) risks, social acceptance and legal constraints. The establishment of accompanying monitoring programme is of particular importance for this measure.

Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details

IPCC categories

Institutional: Government policies and programmes, Structural and physical: Ecosystem-based adaptation options

Stakeholder participation

Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services cannot be achieved without the widespread engagement of society as a whole. Therefore, substantial emphasis should be placed on co-operative working between local planning authorities, landowners, NGOs, local-communities and other stakeholders to encourage the planning, establishment and maintenance of adaptive management measures, including the creation of ecological networks.

Success and Limiting Factors

There are many challenges involved in opting for conservation approaches that consider adaptive management. One of the main process-related challenges is due to the fact that adaptive management is an approach integrating risks and uncertainties (e.g. due to climate change impacts, land use changes, etc.), making management and decisions more complex and, therefore, needing a clear commitment to flexibility and openness for long-term learning processes. From a practical point of view, one of the main challenges is due to the fact that much of the land is privately owned and natural habitats are already very fragmented and exposed to several pressures, which limits the full implementation of some of the key elements of adaptive management (e.g. those related to the possible expansion of habitats and free movement of species).

Success in implementing adaptive management of natural habitats can be enhanced by:

  • Implementing no-regrets actions, addressing the full range of likely impacts;
  • Strengthening awareness on the high value of resilient ecosystems and their services, also in terms of improved climate change adaptation;
  • Integrating adaptation across relevant sectors (e.g. water and flood risk management, agriculture, forestry, urban planning), making use of the potential of ecosystem based adaptation approaches;
  • Promoting partnerships between public and private sectors;
  • Engaging all relevant stakeholders, including local communities and NGOs.

Costs and Benefits

Costs can greatly vary depending on the actual measures being implemented. They can include: (1) costs for undertaking studies on climate scenarios, climate change impacts and biodiversity vulnerabilities, (2) costs on defining solutions and planning adaptation, (3) costs for measures implementation (including for example, buying lands, conducting works for habitat creation or restoration, etc.), and (4) costs for monitoring the effects of the implemented measures.

In the perceptive of climate change, adaptive management of habitats aims to improve the adaptation capacity of natural systems. The main benefits for biodiversity includes the increased resilience of plant and animal species to the effects of climate change. Adaptive management also aims to maintain and even improve ecosystem services, including those relevant for climate change adaptation. Regulation services of biodiverse and resilient ecosystems contribute to reduce climate risks for the human society. For example an ongoing monitoring and possible adaptation of the management of preserved forests in mountain regions can reduce vulnerability to landslides which might increase due to higher frequency and magnitude of extreme precipitation events. Adaptive management of existing green spaces and the creation of new green infrastructures in urban areas can decrease the vulnerability to heatwaves.

In addition, resilient ecosystems offer important provisioning services from an economic perspective. This is relevant, for example, for agriculture (especially with regard to the role of soil and its ecological communities), fisheries or the supply of fresh water resources. Last but not least, resilient and well-preserved ecosystems can deliver important cultural services, with benefits for the human well-being and again some economic activities (e.g. tourism).

A number of key conventions and EU directives have determined the development of biodiversity policy across Europe (e.g. Ramras, Bonn and Bern Conventions; EC Habitats and Birds Directives). In 2011, the European Commission adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy with the aim to halt the loss of biodiversity and improve the state of Europe’s species, habitats, ecosystems and the services they provide over the next decade. The strategy proposes to promote ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation to climate change and emphasises the close link between adaptation to climate change and biodiversity. In 2013 the Commission adopted a Green Infrastructure Strategy to promote the deployment of green Infrastructure in the EU.

Conservation targets need to be regularly reviewed considering threats posed by climate change, interactions between climate change and other pressures (e.g. habitat fragmentation or introduction of exotic species) and new knowledge for example on biodiversity vulnerability to climate change. Since climate change impacts will not be uniform across regions, it will be important to assess and respond to the changing status of biodiversity at local, regional, national, and international levels by adapting conservation status and targets in the different conventions and conservation plans and mechanisms.

Implementation Time

In general, time for the definition of an adaptive management scheme is a matter of few years (1-3), also including the due stakeholders’ consultation phase. The implementation phase is expected to take more time, although it is highly dependent on the specific adaptation measure considered.

Life Time

By definition any adaptive approach requires the adoption of a continuous process of planning, implementing, monitoring and reviewing. Lifetime of specific adaptation measures depend on their typologies and maintenance.

Reference information

Published in Climate-ADAPT Sep 03 2016   -   Last Modified in Climate-ADAPT May 17 2024

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