You are here: Home / Database / Adaptation options / Adaptive management of natural habitats
Original page

Adaptation option

Adaptive management of natural habitats (2015)

Biodiversity – the variety of life on the planet – is essential for the economy and for people well-being, but one of the main environmental challenges facing the planet is the loss of it. Conserving biodiversity and maintaining nature’s capacity to deliver the related goods and services is became a priority at global scale.
Climate change is already affecting biodiversity and it is expected to become one of the greatest threats to biodiversity during this century. The direct impacts of climate change on biodiversity include:

  • changes in species abundance and distribution;
  • changes in habitats which species occupy;
  • changes in phenology which may lead to loss of synchrony between species;
  • changes in community composition;
  • changes in ecosystem processes, functions and services;
  • loss of space for habitats and ecosystems (e.g. due to sea level rise)

Adaptive management of natural ecosystems is an iterative process in which management actions are followed by targeted monitoring. In the context of climate change, adaptive management involves the knowledge of potential climate impacts and associated uncertainty, the design of actions to cope with them, the monitoring of climate-sensitive species and processes to evaluate management effectiveness, and the redesign and implementation of improved (or new) management actions. For an effective adaptive management of natural systems under climate change conditions we need to (adapted from DEFRA, 2008):

  • understand that change is inevitable – species will respond individualistically to climate change;
  • make space for the development of rivers and coasts due to changes in precipitation patterns;
  • establish ecological networks through habitat restoration and creation – some species will move from their current locality thus the restoration or creation of protected areas, new habitat, and corridors between patches of habitats should be promoted;
  • aid gene flow – promoting genetic variability may be vital to enhance species adaptive capacity;
  • consider species translocation (introduction, re-introduction or restocking) and/or ex-situ conservation;
  • respond to changing conservation priorities (due to climate change) at local, regional, national and international levels by adapting conservation targets in the different conventions and conservation mechanisms/ plans.

Specific actions under an adaptive management philosophy include:

  • design ecological networks considering simultaneously the current and future conservation areas as well as the potential future threats caused by climate change and other pressures;
  • identify and restore areas most favorable for the expansion of existing habitats and/or create buffer core areas to protect arriving species from adverse surrounding land use or environmental conditions;
  • implement measures, within management plans and frameworks, that allow the natural development of coasts and rivers and ensure strict planning scrutiny;
  • retain or restore natural river profiles and floodplains, including associated semi-natural habitats, to increase the potential for maintaining biodiversity and reduce the risk of flooding downstream;
  • implement realignment of coastal defences to restore inter-tidal coastal habitats and natural transition zones between coastal and terrestrial habitats;
  • reduce the intensity of land use and establish landscape features such as headlands and hedgerows to enhance species dispersal.
Additional Details
Reference information

Adaptation Details


Stakeholder participation

Biodiversity conservation 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, local-community representatives and others to encourage the planning, establishment and maintenance of ecological networks.

Success and Limiting Factors

There are many challenges involved in opting for conservation approaches that consider adaptive management. Firstly, due to the high complexity of natural systems, there are many uncertainties regarding the impacts of climate change and other interacting pressures (e.g. land use change) on biodiversity. Other challenges are related with the fact that much of the land is privately owned and natural habitats are already very fragmented and under several pressures. However, there is the need to not delay actions due to the long time periods required to implement adaptive measures and the long-term biodiversity response.
Success in implementing adaptive management of natural habitats will be enhanced by:

  • implementing no-regrets actions, addressing the full range of likely impacts;
  • integrating adaptation with mitigation measures;
  • integrating adaptation across relevant sectors, making use of the potential of ecosystem based adaptation approaches;
  • promoting partnerships between public and private sectors;
  • engaging stakeholders, 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), and (4) costs for monitoring the effects of the implemented measures.

The main benefits include the restoration of wildlife habitats, the recovery of some protected species, and the increased resilience of the biodiversity under climate change scenarios. Adaptive actions can also potentially contribute to mitigate efforts and reduce impacts of climate change in other sectors (e.g. reduced flood risk, reduced vulnerability to heat waves in cities). Economic benefits could also include the creation of jobs for executing  the measures or the increase in local/ regional touristic values.

A number of key conventions and directives have determined the development of biodiversity policy across Europe (e.g. Ramsar, Bonn and Bern Conventions; EC Habitats and Birds Directives). More recently, the European Commission adopted the new EU Biodiversity Strategy (2011) 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. These policies are heavily oriented toward the concept of reserves and conservation in situ, suited to a static environment but they do not cope with expected impacts of climate change where large-scale species dispersal is expected.

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 of 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

Greatly depends on the actual measures being implemented.

Life Time

Greatly depends on the actual actions being implemented. Considering the nature of adaptive management, implemented actions should become part of the local or national land use plans and therefore should generally have a long life-time (decades).

Reference information

DEFRA, 2008. England Biodiversity Strategy Climate Change Adaptation Principles - Conserving biodiversity in a changing climate. DEFRA, London.


Adaptive management, ecological network, habitats, landscape, restoration


Biodiversity, Forestry, Marine and Fisheries

Climate impacts

Droughts, Extreme Temperatures, Flooding, Ice and Snow, Sea Level Rise, Storms

Governance level

Local (e.g. city or municipal level)
Sub National Regions
Transnational region (stretching across country borders)

Geographic characterisation


Document Actions