Energy, Climate & Environment

Can plants and animals adapt to a changing climate or will we require new approaches to biodiversity conservation?

History and ecology teach us the inevitability of change, says ecologist David Ackerly. And in this century, the climate is changing faster than ever. Warmer temperatures and record low precipitation in the recent California drought left 100 million trees dead in the mountains, and California cities and agriculture vulnerable. Ackerly has been studying how fast plants and animals may need to migrate uphill or northward as the planet warms in order to remain in their preferred temperature regime.  These velocities could be as high as five miles per year -- exceeding the ability of most species to disperse and establish new populations. Conserving variable landscapes will help plant and animal migrations, by capturing a range of climatic conditions in close proximity; corridors that connect parks and open space will also make it easier for species to move. In some cases, assisted migration may be necessary, though it brings risks of unexpected consequences. Future success will require novel strategies to conserve our natural heritage.

Keywords/Tags: climate change, animal and plant migration, land conservation

David AckerlyDavid Ackerly

David researches climate change impacts on biodiversity, integration of phylogenetics and ecology, and conservation biology in relation to 21st century climate change. For over ten years, he has been involved in data-intensive projects, for example integrating large datasets of phylogenetics and trait data, and handling large ensembles of future climate layers for modeling biodiversity impacts. Read more.