Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Climate Change, Biodiversity Conservation and Protected Area Planning in Canada

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Climate Change, Biodiversity Conservation and Protected Area Planning in Canada

Article excerpt

Introduction

Recent reconstructions of global mean surface temperature from both 'proxy' (e.g., tree rings, ice cores and lake sediments) and modern (i.e., 1850-2000) instrumental temperature records indicate that global twentieth-century warming is unprecedented over the past two millennia (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 2001a; Mann et al. 2003). Warming trends in Canada over the second half of the twentieth century have averaged approximately 1[degrees]C with regional variations ranging from about 2[degrees]C in the southwest Yukon to 1.5[degrees]C in the central interior of the country (Environment Canada 2005). Modelling and statistical studies indicate that such anomalous patterns cannot be fully explained by natural factors but instead require an anthropogenic forcing occurring during the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Mann et al. 2003; Braganza et al. 2004). The IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) has indicated that global temperatures could rise between 1.4 and 5.8[degrees]C over the twenty-first century (IPCC 2001a). As a northern country, Canada is projected to warm more than most other countries and, in some areas, more than double the global average increase (Canadian Climate Impacts Scenarios [CCIS] 2003). Climate change of this magnitude, projected to occur over a relatively short period of time, would have significant consequences for Canadian ecosystems.

A growing body of research indicates that global biodiversity is particularly at risk due to the relatively rapid climate change projected for the twenty-first century (e.g., Thomas et al. 2004; Hannah et al. 2005). Using a climate-envelope approach to examine the spatial dislocation of species under climatic change, Thomas et al. (2004, 147) argued that '... the consistent overall conclusions across analyses establish that anthropogenic climate warming at least ranks alongside other recognised threats to global biodiversity ... [and] ... is likely to be the greatest threat in many if not most regions'. Moreover, Thomas et al. (2004, 147) emphasised that '... many of the most severe impacts of climate change are likely to stem from interactions between threats, factors not taken into account in our calculations, rather than from climate acting in isolation'. Importantly, an increasing number of empirical studies document the ecological effects (e.g., changes in phenology, distribution and physiology) of recent climate change (Parmesan et al. 1999; Hughes 2000; McCarty 2001; Warren et al. 2001; Walther et al. 2002; Parmesan and Yohe 2003; Root et al. 2003; Parmesan and Galbraith 2004), and climate change has been linked to several recent species extinctions (Pounds et al. 1999; McLaughlin et al. 2002; Thomas et al. 2004).

The implications of projected climate and ecosystem changes on biodiversity conservation are considerable. In Canada, federal and provincial park and protected area system plans adopt natural region or ecoregion representation approaches and, like protected area systems around the world, have been designed to protect specific natural features, species and communities in situ, not taking into account landscape-level shifts in ecosystem distribution and structure that could be induced by twenty-first century climatic change. The anticipated changes in ecosystem distribution and composition expected under climatic change, coupled with some species' inability to genetically adapt to new climatic conditions or migrate to suitable climatic zones, could hinder the ability of protected area managers to maintain some habitats and species populations in the future (Peters and Darling 1985; Peters and Lovejoy 1992; Halpin 1997; Scott et al. 2002; Hannah et al. 2005; Scott and Lemieux 2005). The IPCC's special report, Climate Change and Biodiversity (IPCC 2002, 41), recently argued that 'the placement and management of reserves and protected areas will need to take into account potential climate change if the reserve systems are to continue to achieve their full potential'. …

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