ArticlePDF Available

Conservation triage at the trailing edge of climate envelopes



Article impact statement: Resources should target leading edges of species’ climate envelopes rather than populations at the trailing edge of climate change. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
Conservation triage at the trailing edge of climate
Sophie L. Gilbert ,1Kate Broadley,2Darcy Doran-Myers,2Amanda Droghini,2
Jessica A. Haines ,2Anni H¨
ainen,3Clayton T. Lamb,2Eric W. Neilson,2and Stan Boutin2
1Department of Fish & Wildlife Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID, 83844, U.S.A., email
2Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G0C5, Canada
3School of Optometry, Universit´
eal, Montr´
eal, QC CAN, H3T1P1, Canada
Species protection via geographically fixed conservation
actions is a primary tool for maintenance of biodiversity
worldwide (Pimm et al. 2014). Yet, for many species,
the assumption that currently suitable sites will remain
so is undermined by climate change (Urban 2015; Wiens
2016). Climate-change-associated range shifts (Chen et al.
2011), a process driven by populations at the trailing
edge of the climate envelope going extinct or moving and
those at the leading edge becoming established, are be-
coming widespread around the world (Wiens 2016). We
argue that conservation of populations of at-risk species
should be prioritized across each species’ range based on
future climatic suitability of an area with the goal of main-
taining or increasing the number of viable populations
range wide. Such range-wide prioritization could help
conserve species in a changing climate when resources
are limited; effort would be reallocated to viable popu-
lations (Oliver et al. 2012; Alagador & Cerdeira 2016).
Promisingly, resistance to this approach (Oliver et al.
2016) may be waning. Many nongovernment organiza-
tions (e.g., International Panel on Climate Change, World
Wildlife Fund) now use climate-informed range-wide ap-
proaches, as do some national and state agencies (e.g.,
Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies 2018; Cornwall
2018). We aimed to advance discussion and implemen-
tation of climate-informed prioritization across species’
ranges and considered when populations behind the trail-
ing edge of climate change should be deprioritized.
Article impact statement: Resources should target leading edges of species’ climate envelopes rather than populations at the trailing edge of
climate change.
Paper submitted November 25, 2017; revised manuscript accepted June 22, 2019.
An Urgently Needed Approach
Deprioritizing populations that are no longer viable under
climate change is critical but remains rarely discussed.
Most decision tools and conservation plans focus on en-
hancements within and on the leading edge of climate
envelopes (connectivity, habitat improvement, refugia
protection, and assisted migration [Jones et al. 2016]),
whereas decisions for trailing-edge populations are rarely
discussed. As climate conditions worsen at the trailing
edge, affected populations will near extinction despite
conservation actions (e.g., threat mitigation, protection
of habitat). Nevertheless, species-specific, geographically
static conservation actions are status quo and common.
One-fifth of protected areas worldwide aim to protect
specific species (IUCN 2008; Supporting Information).
For example, protection and restoration designed to stop
declines of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus cari-
bou) do not consider that these populations may already
be outside their climate envelope (Murray et al. 2015);
likewise, sea-level rise will eventually drive Florida key
deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) to extinction,
yet in situ conservation actions continue (Maschinski
et al. 2011).
Principles of conservation prioritization could be used
to reallocate resources from climate-change unviable
to climate-change viable populations within each at-
risk species’ shifting climate envelopes, which we term
trailing-edge triage. Unlike multispecies conservation
triage, in which resources are reallocated among species
Conservation Biology,Volume0,No.0,14
2019 Society for Conservation Biology
DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13401
2Conservation Triage
Climate is driving decline of
a trailing-edge population?
Continue in situ
Population still present?
Re-allocate actions
within the climate
Is remaining population
critically important?
Reallocate actions
within the climate
Is there viable habitat within
the climate envelope?
Relocate population
within climate
Intensive management
intervention in situ
(a) (b) (c) (d) (e)
Reallocate actions
within the climate
Figure 1. Conceptual diagram of 4 primary scenarios (rectangles) and actions (ovals) resulting from the
difference between a protected-area (PA) designated for a population of a target species (solid-line polygon) and
the PA designed to encompass the species’ climate envelope (dashed-line polygon). Shown as an example are a
population of woodland caribou and their northward-shifting climate envelope. Scenarios are (a) no range shift;
(b) population shifts range, leaving unoccupied, but protected habitat; (c) population does not shift range, but is
not essential for species persistence; (d) protected population does not shift range, is essential, and viable habitat
exists elsewhere; and (e) protected population does not shift range, is critical, and no habitat exists elsewhere.
(Hobbs & Kristjanson 2003; Bottrill et al. 2008; Gerber
2016), trailing-edge triage allocates resources within the
range of a target species toward populations likely to
remain viable under future climate change and away from
those at the trailing edge, where efforts are least likely to
be effective (Oliver et al. 2012; Alagador et al. 2014). Such
an approach should maximize the preservation of biodi-
versity with limited resources in a changing climate. Four
primary scenarios could occur for populations behind the
trailing edge (Fig. 1). These scenarios and potential triage
actions do not encompass all the social, economic, and
political complexities inherent in conservation decision
making (Wintle et al. 2011; Hagerman & Satterfield 2014),
which are beyond the scope of this article but are critical
to resolve if trailing-edge triage is to succeed in the long
term (Sinclair et al. 2018). Further, our arguments also
apply to species assemblages of conservation concern
(e.g., coral reefs, short-grass prairie).
Determining which populations to deprioritize requires
species-specific, range-wide analysis of climate vulner-
ability to identify climate-change unviable and viable
populations so that resources can be reallocated. Range-
wide vulnerability analysis currently encompasses several
approaches (e.g., correlative, mechanistic, or trait-based
[Pacifici 2015]), and recent advances show promise for
integrating these approaches (Razgour et al. 2018). The
potential for in situ evolutionary adaptation to climate
change should simultaneously be facilitated and thresh-
olds for decline agreed on by decision makers prior to
prioritization (Doak & Morris 2010; Boutin & Lane 2014).
Careful analysis and decision making should be used to
disentangle interactive effects, reduce attribution uncer-
tainty, and make robust, adaptive decisions (Oliver &
Morecroft 2014).
Several frameworks exist that can inform decisions
about how to address climate-change unviable popula-
tions. They offer practical, detailed guidance (e.g., Oliver
et al. 2012; Alagador & Cerdeira 2016); therefore, we
only highlight the general process (Fig. 1). First, if a
population shifts range to keep pace with its climate
envelope, then what remains behind the trailing edge
is a remnant population and potentially a relict, species-
specific protected or management area (Fig. 1b). In this
situation, conservation actions, including continued habi-
tat protection, would likely cease (but not in multispecies
protected areas such as national parks) (Schneider et al.
2010; Alagador et al. 2014).
If a population cannot track the climate envelope and is
not critical to the persistence of the species (Fig. 1c), then
active management of that population would likewise
cease, although considerations such as maintenance of
genetic diversity must be taken into account. In contrast,
populations unable to follow their moving climate enve-
lope but deemed critical and with viable habitat (i.e.,
areas with suitable environmental and socioeconomic
conditions [Schneider et al. 2010; Corlett 2016]) else-
where (Fig. 1d) would require ex situ management, such
as assisted migration or captive breeding (Dawson et al.
2011). Finally, some populations deemed critical to the
persistence of a species would become stranded outside
Conservation Biology
Volume 0, No. 0, 2019
Gilbert et al. 3
their climate envelopes and would lack viable habitat
elsewhere (Fig. 1e). In this case, drastic and ongoing
interventions would be required (e.g., maintenance of
a conservation-reliant population [Shoo et al. 2013]).
Seizing the Opportunity
Unless geographically static conservation policies are
adapted to include trailing-edge triage, increasing con-
servation failures and economic costs are likely as popu-
lations fall behind the trailing edge of climate envelopes
and the cost of conserving them escalates. Yet, depriori-
tizing trailing-edge populations that are no longer climate-
change viable is so far a rarely adopted strategy.
We see a number of barriers to adoption, foremost
among which may be trepidation and loss aversion within
the conservation community. We acknowledge that triag-
ing trailing-edge populations is unsettling and therefore
suggest that further research into understanding and mit-
igating resistance to prioritization and triage is key to
further progress. There is a growing recognition of the
joint need to both increase and better allocate total con-
servation resources within the conservation community
(Hagerman & Satterfield 2014), which has sparked a sub-
sequent resurgence in discussions of conservation triage
(Cornwall 2018). Yet, some level of uncertainty will al-
ways remain when determining whether a population is
climate-change unviable, which points to the need for
involvement of social scientists (e.g., decision science,
behavioral economics, etc.) in the conservation prioriti-
zation process. Further, we see the evaluation of these
populations and their responses to climate change as
an ongoing process to be incorporated into an adaptive-
management framework. Regular monitoring and adap-
tive management will increase the chance of success.
Another key challenge to adoption of trailing-edge
triage is the multijurisdictional nature of prioritization
decisions. Inevitably, some target species will shift range
across intra- and international boundaries, challenging
resource-reallocation efforts, although existing multina-
tional agreements could be adapted or serve as a produc-
tive starting point (e.g., The Migratory Bird Treaty Act,
UN Convention on Migratory Species, Convention on Bi-
ological Diversity, and the Convention on International
Trade in Endangered Species).
Adoption of trailing-edge triage is urgent. Range shifts
are occurring faster than anticipated (Chen et al. 2011),
and protective policies that are spatially static could
erode public support due to real or perceived conser-
vation failure behind the trailing edge (Tam & McDaniels
2013). As the no-analog climate future unfolds, novel
tools such as trailing-edge triage could increase conserva-
tion success for at-risk species and provide a mechanism
for funding conservation efforts elsewhere in species’
ranges. Given the increasing interest in climate-informed
prioritization and the escalating costs of continued in-
vestment in trailing-edge populations, we suggest that
now is the time for rapid investment into all aspects of
trailing-edge triage and subsequent widespread adoption.
We thank, R. Serrouya, C. DeMars, M. Dickie, M. Peers, Y.
Majchrzak, and R. Schneider for productive discussions
of these ideas.
Supporting Information
Calculations regarding species-specific protected areas
(Appendix S1) are available online. The authors are solely
responsible for the content and functionality of these
materials. Queries (other than absence of the material)
should be directed to the corresponding author.
Literature cited
Alagador D, Cerdeira JO. 2016. Climate change, species range shifts and
dispersal corridors: an evaluation of spatial conservation models.
Methods in Ecology and Evolution 7:853–866.
Alagador D, Cerdeira JO, Ara´
ujo MB. 2014. Shifting protected areas:
scheduling spatial priorities under climate change. Journal of Ap-
plied Ecology 51:703–713.
Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). 2018. State wildlife
action plans. AFWA, Washington, D.C.
Bottrill MC, et al. 2008. Is conservation triage just smart decision mak-
ing? Trends in Ecology & Evolution 23:649–654.
Boutin S, Lane JE. 2014. Climate change and mammals: evolutionary
versus plastic responses. Evolutionary Applications 7:29–41.
Chen I-C, Hill JK, Ohlemuller R, Roy DB, Thomas CD. 2011. Rapid range
shifts of species associated with high levels of climate warming.
Science 333:1024–1026.
Corlett RT. 2016. Restoration, reintroduction, and rewilding in a chang-
ing world. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 31:453–462.
Cornwall W. 2018. Should it be saved? Science 361:962–965.
Dawson TP, Jackson ST, House JI, Prentice IC, Mace GM. 2011. Beyond
predictions: biodiversity conservation in a changing climate. Science
Doak DF, Morris WF. 2010. Demographic compensation and tipping
points in climate-induced range shifts. Nature 467:959–962.
Gerber LR. 2016. Conservation triage or injurious neglect in endangered
species recovery. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science
Hagerman SM, Satterfield T. 2014. Agreed but not preferred: expert
views on taboo options for biodiversity conservation, given climate
change. Ecological Applications 24:548–559.
Hobbs BRJ, Kristjanson LJ. 2003. Triage: How do we prioritize health
care for landscapes? Ecological Management & Restoration 4:39–45.
IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). 2008. Guide-
lines for applying protected area management categories. IUCN,
Gland, Switzerland.
Jones KR, Watson JEM, Possingham HP, Klein CJ. 2016. Incorporating
climate change into spatial conservation prioritisation: a review.
Biological Conservation 194:121–130.
Maschinski J, Ross MS, Liu H, O’Brien J, von Wettberg EJ, Haskins
KE. 2011. Sinking ships: conservation options for endemic taxa
threatened by sea level rise. Climatic Change 107:147–167.
Conservation Biology
Volume 0, No. 0, 2019
4Conservation Triage
Murray DL, Majchrzak YN, Peers MJL, Wehtje M, Ferreira C, Pickles RSA,
Row JR, Thornton DH. 2015. Potential pitfalls of private initiatives
in conservation planning: a case study from Canada’s boreal forest.
Biological Conservation 192:174–180.
Oliver TH, Morecroft MD. 2014. Interactions between climate change
and land use change on biodiversity: attribution problems, risks,
and opportunities. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Oliver TH, Smithers RJ, Bailey S, Walmsley CA, Watts K. 2012. A decision
framework for considering climate change adaptation in biodiversity
conservation planning. Journal of Applied Ecology 49:1247–1255.
Oliver TH, Smithers RJ, Beale CM, Watts K. 2016. Are existing biodi-
versity conservation strategies appropriate in a changing climate?
Biological Conservation 193:17–26.
Pacifici M. 2015. Assessing species vulnerability to climate change. Na-
ture Climate Change 5:215–225.
Pimm S, Jenkins CN, Abell R, Brooks TM, Gittleman JL, Joppa LN,
Raven PH, Reberts CM, Sexton JO. 2014. The biodiversity of species
and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection. Science
Razgour O, Taggart JB, Manel S, Juste J, Ib´
nez C, Rebelo H, Alberdi A,
Jones G, Park K. 2018. An integrated framework to identify wildlife
populations under threat from climate change. Molecular Ecology
Resources 18:18–31.
Schneider RR, Hauer G, Adamowicz WL, Boutin S. 2010. Triage
for conserving populations of threatened species: the case of
woodland caribou in Alberta. Biological Conservation 143:1603–
Shoo LP, et al. 2013. Making decisions to conserve species under climate
change. Climatic Change 119:239–246.
Sinclair SP, Milner-Gulland EJ, Smith RJ, Mcintosh EJ, Possingham
HP, Vercammen A, Knight AT. 2018. The use, and usefulness,
of spatial conservation prioritizations. Conservation Letters 11:
Tam J, McDaniels TL. 2013. Understanding individual risk perceptions
and preferences for climate change adaptations in biological con-
servation. Environmental Science & Policy 27:114–123.
Urban MC. 2015. Accelerating extinction risk from climate change.
Science 348:571–573.
Wiens JJ. 2016. Climate-related local extinctions are already widespread
among plant and animal species. PLoS Biology 14:e2001104.
Wintle BA, et al. 2011. Ecological–economic optimization of biodiver-
sity conservation under climate change. Nature Climate Change
Conservation Biology
Volume 0, No. 0, 2019
... Longer and more severe droughts caused by reductions in moisture availability Hurdle 1995, Price et al. 2013), coupled with increased wildfire frequency and severity (Boulanger et al. 2014), ultimately favour the development of alternate successional pathways by transforming coniferous forests and conifer-dominated mixedwood forests into deciduous forests, shrublands, or grasslands (Johnstone et al. 2010b, Scheffer et al. 2012 Consequently, understanding the direct and indirect effects of climate change, and subsequently climate-induced wildfires, on species' ranges are fundamental for land use management and biodiversity conservation , Gilbert et al. 2020. Wildfires provide moose (Alces alces) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with increased quantity and quality of their preferred browse for up to 50 years post-wildfire (MacCracken and Viereck 1990, Weixelman et al. 1998, Lord and Kielland 2015, although recent evidence suggests that it is even longer in the southern portion of the boreal forest (see Chapter 2). ...
... Understanding the effects of climate-induced changes in vegetation, wildfires, and winter severity on the distribution of species is fundamental for land use management and biodiversity conservation , Gilbert et al. 2020). There is a broad range of possible future outcomes for moose and white-tailed deer winter habitat quality, and these outcomes highlight the high levels of uncertainty associated with future fire regime and vegetation trajectories in the boreal mixedwoods of northern Alberta, Canada. ...
... Understanding species' responses to wildfires and climate change are fundamental for land use management and biodiversity conservation , Gilbert et al. 2020. The overall goal of this thesis was to investigate the effects of wildfires and climate change on moose and white-tailed deer winter forage and habitat quality in the boreal mixedwoods of northeastern Alberta, Canada. ...
Full-text available
Understanding how species respond to wildfires and climate change is fundamental for land use management and biodiversity conservation. Wildfires provide generalist ungulates, such as moose (Alces alces) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), with high quantity and quality of winter browse. Climate change, however, is expected to reduce winter severity by creating milder winter conditions and increasing winter food availability for ungulates through changes in vegetation and fire regime. The goal of this thesis was to investigate the effects of wildfires and climate change on moose and white-tailed deer winter forage and habitat quality in the boreal mixedwoods of northeastern Alberta, Canada. First, I examined the changes in winter browse richness, evenness, abundance, and community composition, as well as their use (browse levels) by moose and white- tailed deer, in post-wildfire upland and lowland forests over a 150-year post-wildfire period. In the summer of 2019, I collected vegetation and ungulate browsing data from 164 upland and lowland forest sites in northeastern Alberta. I used analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) and ordinal logistic regression to examine changes in browse measures. Second, I assessed the long-term effects of climate-induced wildfires and vegetation change on the distribution and quality of moose and white-tailed deer winter habitat in the boreal mixedwoods. I developed a winter habitat quality model for moose and white-tailed deer based on predicted changes in vegetation (i.e., static and fire-mediated) and fire regime (i.e., constrained and unconstrained) under an RCP 8.5 climate scenario in the 2020s, 2050s and 2080s. Species richness and evenness peaked at both 10 – 25 years and 90 years post-wildfire in mixedwood forests, as a result of fluctuations in preferred and highly palatable browse species, while browse abundance remained constant. Black spruce and lowland forests had similar species richness, evenness, and abundance over the 150-year chronosequence. Browse abundance in lowland forests was higher than mixedwood forests, but consisted of low palatable browse. Therefore, wildfires in boreal mixedwoods provided higher foraging availability for ungulates in upland forests for far longer than reported in other boreal forests, whereas wildfires in lowland forests do not recruit preferred winter browse species consumed by ungulates. In the absence of vegetation change, moose and white-tailed deer winter habitat is projected to remain similar to baseline conditions; thus, climate-induced wildfires will continue to provide high amounts of winter forage resulting in higher moose populations and continuous expansion of white-tailed deer populations in northeastern Alberta. However, the expansion of deciduous forests in the boreal mixedwoods in the 2050s is projected to decrease moose and white-tailed deer winter habitat quality. Deciduous forests will further provide high quantity and quality forage, but the absence of coniferous cover will result in higher wolf predation risk for moose and white-tailed deer. Finally, the transition between deciduous and mixedwood forests to grasslands in the 2080s is projected to significantly reduce winter habitat quality as moose and white-tailed deer do not have the capacity to incorporate high amount of grasses, sedges and forbs in their winter diets.
... The purpose of SARA protected all wild species. While some edge of range species that are globally secure may be a lower priority for conservation in Canada, species redistribution science (Bonebrake et al. 2018) is providing new approaches to assess which edge of range species may be critical to support climate change driven range shifts, and that "leading edges" should be targeted for conservation (Gilbert et al. 2019). For example the range of American Chestnut (Castanea dentata) is projected to shift northward (Barnes and Delborne 2019) and the Canadian "edge" could play an important role in its conservation. ...
... Some species may need to be relocated to novel ecosystems, including urban areas, to maintain populations. Species redistribution science (Bonebrake et al. 2018) is providing new approaches to assess which edge of range species may be critical to support climate change driven range shifts and which "leading edges" should be targeted for conservation (Gilbert et al. 2019). Maintaining ex situ populations of highly threatened species as a component of translocation projects would also provide insurance against loss (Farhadinia et al. 2020). ...
Full-text available
Wildlife is declining around the world. Many developed nations have enacted legislation on endangered species protection and provide funding for wildlife recovery. Protecting endangered species is also supported by the public and judiciary. Yet, despite what appear as enabling conditions, wild species continue to decline. Our paper explores pathways to endangered species recovery by analyzing the barriers that have been identified in Canada, the United States, and Australia. We summarize these findings based on Canada’s Species at Risk Conservation Cycle (assessment, protection, recovery planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation) and then identify 10 “bridges” that could help overcome these barriers and bend our current trajectory of wildlife loss to recovery. These bridges include ecosystem approaches to recovery, building capacity for community co-governance, linking wildlife recovery to ecosystem services, and improving our storytelling about the loss and recovery of wildlife. The focus of our conclusions is the Canadian setting, but our findings can be applied in other national and subnational settings to reverse the decline of wildlife and halt extinction.
... There is debate about the implications of conservation triage (Bottrill et al., 2008) for climate change adaptation. Deprioritising vulnerable trailingedge populations has been suggested to be an important element of future conservation triage in a changing climate, but decisions are currently hampered by uncertainty (Gilbert et al., 2020). Quantifying the effectiveness of interventions in specific circumstances will improve decision-making (e.g. ...
Full-text available
There is an urgent need to quantify the potential for conservation interventions to effectively manage the impacts of climate change on species' populations and ecological communities. In this first quantitative global assessment of biodiversity conservation interventions for climate change adaptation, we identified 77 peer-reviewed studies, including 443 cases describing the response of individual species' populations or assemblages to particular interventions, whilst also accounting for responses to climate change or particular climatic variables. Eighty-two percent of studies were from Europe or North America. In 30% of reported cases, interventions were regarded as beneficial (having a significant positive impact on a population also affected by a climatic variable). However, beneficial outcomes were more likely to be reported when fewer responses were analysed, suggesting a publication bias in the reporting of beneficial responses. Management focused on particular species (e.g. targeted habitat management and species recovery interventions) was modelled to have a higher probability (73%) of being beneficial than more generic interventions such as land and water management (22%) or protection (17%). Although more data on the effectiveness of climate change adaptation for species conservation are required, the diversity of examples reviewed suggests that climate change adaptation can successfully reduce negative impacts of, or enhance positive responses to, climate change. Targeted interventions maximise the persistence of the most vulnerable populations, whilst expanding habitat management and site protection interventions may benefit the largest number of species and ecosystems. The effective monitoring and evaluation of adaptation interventions is required to improve this evidence-base for future decision-making.
... As a result of steep population declines, and conflicting political and societal priorities between land stewardship and resource extraction, wildlife managers have shifted their focus from working solely on longer-term strategies of protecting habitat to shorter-term efforts (Nagy-reis et al. 2021). These short-term efforts focus on caribou predators and competitors (i.e., wolf removal or increased deer and moose hunting) (Hervieux et al. 2014;Serrouya et al. 2019), protecting neonate calves via maternal penning (Serrouya et al. 2019), with growing calls for, and concerns of, conservation triage in some cases (Schneider et al. 2010;Vucetich, Nelson & Bruskotter 2017;Cornwall 2018;Gilbert et al. 2020). ...
Full-text available
Indigenous Peoples around the northern hemisphere have long relied on caribou for subsistence, ceremonial, and community purposes. Unfortunately, despite recovery efforts by Federal and Provincial agencies, caribou are currently in decline in many areas across Canada. In response to recent and dramatic declines of mountain caribou populations within their traditional territory, West Moberly First Nations and Saulteau First Nations (collectively, the 'Nations') came together to create a new vision for caribou recovery on the lands they have long stewarded and shared. The Nations focused on the Klinse-Za subpopulation, which had once encompassed so many caribou that West Moberly Elders remarked that they were "like bugs on the landscape". The Klinse-Za caribou declined from ~250 in the 1990's to only 38 in 2013, rendering Indigenous harvest of caribou non-viable and infringing on treaty rights to a subsistence livelihood. In collaboration with many groups and governments, this Indigenous-led conservation initiative paired short-term population recovery actions-predator reduction and maternal penning-with long-term habitat protection in an effort to create a self-sustaining caribou population. Here, we review these recovery actions and the promising evidence that the abundance of Klinse-Za caribou has more than doubled from 38 animals in 2013 to 101 in 2021, representing rapid population growth in response to recovery actions. With looming extirpation averted, the Nations focused efforts on securing a landmark conservation agreement in 2020 that protects caribou habitat over a 7,986 km2 area. The Agreement provides habitat protection for >85% of the Klinse-Za subpopulation (up from only 1.8% protected pre-conservation agreement) and affords moderate protection for neighboring caribou subpopulations (29-47% of subpopulation areas, up from 0-20%). This Indigenous-led conservation initiative has set both the Indigenous and Canadian governments on the path to recover the Klinse-Za subpopulation and reinstate a culturally meaningful caribou hunt. This effort highlights how Indigenous governance and leadership can be the catalyst needed to establish meaningful conservation actions, enhance endangered species recovery, and honor cultural connections to now imperilled wildlife.
... Ongoing and future conservation and restoration efforts (e.g. protected areas, habitat restoration) that do not account for shifts in the distribution of caribou due to climate change may be ineffective at maintaining population viability over long time periods (Taillon et al. 2012, Gilbert et al. 2019. Our work suggests that as the climate changes, the distribution of caribou ranges will be more sensitive to the effects of habitat-mediated climate changes than to the direct effects of changing climate conditions. ...
Full-text available
Effective species conservation efforts require insight into whether a species’ extent of occurrence may shift due to changing climate, habitat loss, or both. The extent of occurrence of the threatened boreal population of woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou; caribou) has contracted due to environmental and anthropogenic disruption, with further contractions predicted as boreal habitat shifts with the changing climate. However, the direct and indirect climate drivers of caribou extent of occurrence have not been explicitly investigated. We estimated and compared the influence of climate and habitat drivers on the occurrence of caribou ranges across the Canadian boreal forest. We fit path models that estimated the direct effects of climate on caribou range occurrence and its indirect effect through climate's influence on caribou habitat (i.e., forest cover, presence of peatland, human disturbance and wildfire). Our analysis suggests that the distribution of caribou ranges is less sensitive to the direct effects of climate than to those of habitat and human disturbance. However, through its relationship to caribou habitat, climate exerts indirect influence over the distribution of caribou. As the climate changes, future distributions of caribou may be more heavily relegated to refuge habitats, particularly peatlands in the western boreal forest. Our biogeographical approach enables more informed decisions for large-scale caribou conservation efforts (e.g. establishment of protected areas, habitat restoration) that account for potential shifts in the distribution of caribou under changing environmental and climatic conditions.
... Questions include, for example, how to determine the state that we are managing towards and the role of historical condition in ecosystem resilience, including the role of Indigenous Peoples in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem function through traditional land management practices, such as cultural burning (Kimmerer 2013). Although many methods have been developed to assess species and ecosystem vulnerability to climate change (Grimm et al. 2013;Pacifici et al. 2015), research, policy, and management frameworks are lacking to guide decisions on which species, ecosystems, and functions warrant priority attention, how long efforts to maintain current conditions should be continued, and which species are likely to require movement corridors or assisted migrations or to be displaced and replaced by other species (McLachlan et al. 2007;Bottrill et al. 2009;Hagerman and Satterfield 2014;Gilbert et al. 2020). In responding to predicted shifts in species' distributions and natural disturbance rates, we lack novel ways of managing for EI that focus on retaining complex trophic interactions and biophysical processes rather than current species assemblages (Scott and Lemieux 2005;Lemieux et al. 2011). ...
Full-text available
Horizon scanning is increasingly used in conservation to systematically explore emerging policy and management issues. We present the results of a horizon scan of issues likely to impact management of Canadian protected and conserved areas over the next 5–10 years. Eighty-eight individuals participated, representing a broad community of academics, government and nongovernment organizations, and foundations, including policymakers and managers of protected and conserved areas. This community initially identified 187 issues, which were subsequently triaged to 15 horizon issues by a group of 33 experts using a modified Delphi technique. Results were organized under four broad categories: ( i) emerging effects of climate change in protected and conserved areas design, planning, and management (i.e., large-scale ecosystem changes, species translocation, fire regimes, ecological integrity, and snow patterns); ( ii) Indigenous governance and knowledge systems (i.e., Indigenous governance and Indigenous knowledge and Western science); ( iii) integrated conservation approaches across landscapes and seascapes (i.e., connectivity conservation, integrating ecosystem values and services, freshwater planning); and ( iv) early responses to emerging cumulative, underestimated, and novel threats (i.e., management of cumulative impacts, declining insect biomass, increasing anthropogenic noise, synthetic biology). Overall, the scan identified several emerging issues that require immediate attention to effectively reduce threats, respond to opportunities, and enhance preparedness and capacity to react.
... An understanding of these patterns and their associated uncertainty and opportunities can contextualize choices about how to respond to local change (Magness et al. 2011, Belote et al. 2017, Belote et al. 2018. For example, managing the leading edge of a range shift may be different than managing the trailing edge (Gilbert et al. 2020). In multijurisdictional landscapes, some decision-makers may be more likely to select or avoid a specific response to change (resist, accept, or direct) given differences in agency missions, landowner objectives, and community priorities. ...
Full-text available
Despite striking global change, management to ensure healthy landscapes and sustained natural resources has tended to set objectives on the basis of the historical range of variability in stationary ecosystems. Many social-ecological systems are moving into novel conditions that can result in ecological transformation. We present four foundations to enable a transition to future-oriented conservation and management that increases capacity to manage change. The foundations are to identify plausible social-ecological trajectories, to apply upstream and deliberate engagement and decision-making with stakeholders, to formulate management pathways to desired futures, and to consider a portfolio approach to manage risk and account for multiple preferences across space and time. We use the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as a case study to illustrate how the four foundations address common land management challenges for navigating transformation and deciding when, where, and how to resist, accept, or direct social-ecological change.
... Such climate thresholds are to be expected given that a species' distribution is often dictated by a climate envelope [89] and these thresholds may not be static, often interacting with density-dependent factors [33]. Continued monitoring of caribou-climate relationships, particularly across significant climate gradients (i.e., at the trailing edges of climate envelopes; [90]), should therefore be an integral part of conservation strategies aimed at stabilizing and recovering these threatened populations. demographic data. ...
Full-text available
As global climate change progresses, wildlife management will benefit from knowledge of demographic responses to climatic variation, particularly for species already endangered by other stressors. In Canada, climate change is expected to increasingly impact populations of threatened woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) and much focus has been placed on how a warming climate has potentially facilitated the northward expansion of apparent competitors and novel predators. Climate change, however, may also exert more direct effects on caribou populations that are not mediated by predation. These effects include meteorological changes that influence resource availability and energy expenditure. Research on other ungulates suggests that climatic variation may have minimal impact on low-density populations such as woodland caribou because per-capita resources may remain sufficient even in "bad" years. We evaluated this prediction using demographic data from 21 populations in western Canada that were monitored for various intervals between 1994 and 2015. We specifically assessed whether juvenile recruitment and adult female survival were correlated with annual variation in meteorological metrics and plant phenology. Against expectations, we found that both vital rates appeared to be influenced by annual climatic variation. Juvenile recruitment was primarily correlated with variation in phenological conditions in the year prior to birth. Adult female survival was more strongly correlated with meteorological conditions and declined during colder, more variable winters. These responses may be influenced by the life history of woodland caribou, which reside in low-productivity refugia where small climatic changes may result in changes to resources that are sufficient to elicit strong demographic effects. Across all models, explained variation in vital rates was low, suggesting that other factors had greater influence on caribou demography. Nonetheless, given the declining trajectories of many woodland caribou populations, our results highlight the increased relevance of recovery actions when adverse climatic conditions are likely to negatively affect caribou demography.
... For example, the distribution of North African odonates is restricted by the Mediterranean Sea in the north, and the vast Sahara desert in the south. Therefore, unlike the typical dispersal opportunity that populations at leading or trailing edges have to move northwards (northern hemisphere) or southwards (southern hemisphere) to escape climate warming (Hickling et al., 2005;Angert et al., 2011;Wiens, 2016;Gilbert et al., 2020), many species, particularly those of high-conservation priority, will have to adapt to the novel yet severe environmental conditions. Thus, much of the local Mediterranean odonate diversity is at great risk of extinction should appropriate management measures not be taken. ...
Full-text available
Freshwater habitats worldwide are experiencing many threats from environmental and anthropogenic sources, affecting biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. In Africa, particularly in Mediterranean climate zones, rapid human population growth is predicted to have great impact on natural habitats besides naturally occurring events such as unpredictable drought frequency and severity. Here, we analyze the potential correlation between odonate assemblage conservation priority (measured with the Dragonfly Biotic Index: DBI) and the magnitude of climate change and human perturbation in African regions with a dominant Mediterranean climate, namely Northern (NAR: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) and Southern African region (SAR: South Africa). Using a compilation of studies assessing odonate assemblages in lotic and lentic habitats of both regions (295 sites in NAR and 151 sites in SAR), we estimated DBI, temporal change in average annual temperature (T), annual precipitation (P), and human footprint index (HFI) in each site, then we tested whether sites with different levels of DBI were associated with different magnitudes of climatic and anthropogenic change. We estimated past (between 1980–1999 and 2000–2018) and future changes (between 1980–1999 and 2081–2100) in T and P based on three CMIP6 scenarios representing low (SSP126), moderate (SSP245), and high emission (SSP585), as well as the change in HFI from 1993 to 2009. We found that assemblages with higher DBI (i.e. higher conservation priority) encountered lower increase in T and slightly greater decrease in P than assemblages with lower DBI (i.e. lower conservation priority) in NAR during 1980–2018, but are projected to experience higher increase in T and lower decrease in P in future projections for 2081–2100. In SAR, the increase in T was mostly similar across assemblages but the decline in P was higher for assemblages with higher DBI during 1980–2018 and 2081–2100, suggesting that assemblages of higher conservation priority in SAR are threatened by drought. While HFI showed an overall increase in NAR but not in SAR, its temporal change showed only minor differences across assemblages with different DBI levels. We discuss the importance of management plans to mitigate the effects of climatic and anthropogenic threats, so improving conservation of odonate assemblages in these regions.
... Climate change will accelerate and add to species extinctions caused by other anthropogenic threats to biodiversity, such as habitat destruction and fragmentation, unsustainable harvesting of plants and animals, pollutants, and invasive species [1] . Given the immensity of the extinction crisis, conservation scientists will need tools to identify which species are at greatest risk due to climate alteration [2] , particularly individual responses at the local and regional scales [3] . The velocity of climate change in many areas is such that populations, particularly of species with long generation times, will be unable to evolve quickly enough to adapt to climate intensification [4] . ...
Climate change will accelerate the extinction rate of wildlife species in the Anthropocene. Identifying which species exhibit the capacity to be flexible in their activity patterns to avoid heat stress will help direct conservation effort to those species that lack resilience. We propose a framework for using photo capture data sets from camera trapping surveys to make conservation management decisions based on a combination of population trends and activity pattern shifts. After summarizing the basic design of typical camera trap surveys, we conduct a literature review of camera-trap-based activity pattern studies for select large tropical forest mammals. Based on our literature review we identified problems with data form and availability, data capture and image sampling, and sampling area and period, which may impede the application of camera trap technology to investigate behavioral resilience to climate warming. We conclude with eight important research questions that must be answered before our monitoring and management framework could be adopted to guide conservation efforts for large tropical mammals.
Full-text available
Spatial conservation prioritization is used globally to guide decision making with the aim of delivering the best conservation gain per unit investment. However, despite many publications on the topic, the extent to which this approach is used by decision makers has been unclear. To investigate the degree to which prioritization has been adopted by practitioners to guide conservation implementation we conducted an online survey, collecting data on the approaches used to develop prioritizations and the reported extent of translation to on‐the‐ground action. Using a cluster analysis, we identified two categories of prioritizations, those developed to advance the field (42% of responses) and those intended for implementation (58% of responses). Respondents reported 74% of the prioritizations intended for implementation had translated to on‐the‐ground action. Additionally, we identified strong collaboration between academics and practitioners in prioritization development, suggesting a bridging of the theory‐practice gap. We recommend continued collaboration and research into the effectiveness of prioritizations in delivering conservation impacts. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. Open access link:
Full-text available
Climate change is a major threat to global biodiversity that will produce a range of new selection pressures. Understanding species responses to climate change requires an interdisciplinary perspective, combining ecological, molecular and environmental approaches. We propose an applied integrated framework to identify populations under threat from climate change based on their extent of exposure, inherent sensitivity due to adaptive and neutral genetic variation and range shift potential. We consider intraspecific vulnerability and population-level responses, an important but often neglected conservation research priority. We demonstrate how this framework can be applied to vertebrates with limited dispersal abilities using empirical data for the bat Plecotus austriacus. We use ecological niche modelling and environmental dissimilarity analysis to locate areas at high risk of exposure to future changes. Combining outlier tests with genotype-environment association analysis we identify potential climate-adaptive SNPs in our genomic dataset and differences in the frequency of adaptive and neutral variation between populations. We assess landscape connectivity and show that changing environmental suitability may limit the future movement of individuals, thus affecting both the ability of populations to shift their distribution to climatically suitable areas and the probability of evolutionary rescue through the spread of adaptive genetic variation among populations. Therefore a better understanding of movement ecology and landscape connectivity is needed for predicting population persistence under climate change. Our study highlights the importance of incorporating genomic data to determine sensitivity, adaptive potential and range shift potential, instead of relying solely on exposure to guide species vulnerability assessments and conservation planning.
Full-text available
Current climate change may be a major threat to global biodiversity, but the extent of species loss will depend on the details of how species respond to changing climates. For example, if most species can undergo rapid change in their climatic niches, then extinctions may be limited. Numerous studies have now documented shifts in the geographic ranges of species that were inferred to be related to climate change, especially shifts towards higher mean elevations and latitudes. Many of these studies contain valuable data on extinctions of local populations that have not yet been thoroughly explored. Specifically, overall range shifts can include range contractions at the “warm edges” of species’ ranges (i.e., lower latitudes and elevations), contractions which occur through local extinctions. Here, data on climate-related range shifts were used to test the frequency of local extinctions related to recent climate change. The results show that climate-related local extinctions have already occurred in hundreds of species, including 47% of the 976 species surveyed. This frequency of local extinctions was broadly similar across climatic zones, clades, and habitats but was significantly higher in tropical species than in temperate species (55% versus 39%), in animals than in plants (50% versus 39%), and in freshwater habitats relative to terrestrial and marine habitats (74% versus 46% versus 51%). Overall, these results suggest that local extinctions related to climate change are already widespread, even though levels of climate change so far are modest relative to those predicted in the next 100 years. These extinctions will presumably become much more prevalent as global warming increases further by roughly 2-fold to 5-fold over the coming decades.
Full-text available
To ensure the long-term persistence of biodiversity, conservation strategies must account for the entire range of cli- mate change impacts. A variety of spatial prioritisation techniques have been developed to incorporate climate change. Here, we provide the first standardised review of these approaches. Using a systematic search, we analysed peer-reviewed spatial prioritisation publications (n = 46) and found that the most common approaches (n = 41, 89%) utilised forecasts of species distributions and aimed to either protect future species habitats (n = 24, 52%) or identify climate refugia to shelter species from climate change (n = 17, 37%). Other approaches (n = 17, 37%) used well-established conservation planning principles to combat climate change, aimed at broadly increasing ei- ther connectivity (n = 11, 24%) or the degree of heterogeneity of abiotic factors captured in the planning process (n = 8, 17%), with some approaches combining multiple goals. We also find a strong terrestrial focus (n = 35, 76%), and heavy geographical bias towards North America (n = 8, 17%) and Australia (n = 11, 24%). While there is an increasing trend of incorporating climate change into spatial prioritisation, we found that serious gaps in cur- rent methodologies still exist. Future research must focus on developing methodologies that allow planners to incor- porate human responses to climate change and recognise that discrete climate impacts (e.g. extreme events), which are increasing in frequency and severity, must be addressed within the spatial prioritisation framework. By identi- fying obvious gaps and highlighting future research needs this review will help practitioners better plan for conser- vation action in the face of multiple threats including climate change.
Full-text available
1.The notion that conservation areas are static geographical units for biodiversity conservation should be revised when planning for climate change adaptation. Since species are expected to respond to climate change by shifting their distributions, conservation areas can lose the very same species that justified their designation. Methods exist to take into account the potential effects of climate on spatial priorities for conservation. One of such methods involves the identification of time-ordered linkages between conservation areas (hereafter termed climate change corridors), thus enabling species tracking their suitable changing climates. 2.We critically review and synthesise existing quantitative approaches for spatial conservation planning under climate change. We extend these approaches focusing on the identification of climate change corridors, using three alternative models that vary on the objective function (minimum cost or maximum benefit sought) and on the nature of conservation targets (area-based or persistence probabilities). 3.The three models for establishing climate change corridors are illustrated with a case study involving two species distributed across the Iberian Peninsula. The species were modelled in relation to climate change scenarios using ensembles of bioclimatic models and theoretical dispersal kernels. The corridors obtained are compared for their location, the temporal sequence of priorities, and the effectiveness with which solutions attain persistence and cost objectives. 4.By clearly framing the climate change corridors problem as three alternative models and providing the corresponding mathematical descriptions and solving tools, we offer planners a wide spectrum of models that can be easily adapted to a variety of conservation goals and constraints.
Listing endangered and threatened species under the US Endangered Species Act is presumed to offer a defense against extinction and a solution to achieve recovery of imperiled populations, but only if effective conservation action ensues after listing occurs. The amount of government funding available for species protection and recovery is one of the best predictors of successful recovery; however, government spending is both insufficient and highly disproportionate among groups of species, and there is significant discrepancy between proposed and actualized budgets across species. In light of an increasing list of imperiled species requiring evaluation and protection, an explicit approach to allocating recovery funds is urgently needed. Here I provide a formal decision-theoretic approach focusing on return on investment as an objective and a transparent mechanism to achieve the desired recovery goals. I found that less than 25% of the $1.21 billion/year needed for implementing recovery plans for 1,125 species is actually allocated to recovery. Spending in excess of the recommended recovery budget does not necessarily translate into better conservation outcomes. Rather, elimination of only the budget surplus for "costly yet futile" recovery plans can provide sufficient funding to erase funding deficits for more than 180 species. Triage by budget compression provides better funding for a larger sample of species, and a larger sample of adequately funded recovery plans should produce better outcomes even if by chance. Sharpening our focus on deliberate decision making offers the potential to achieve desired outcomes in avoiding extinction for Endangered Species Act-listed species.
The increasing abandonment of marginal land creates new opportunities for restoration, reintroduction, and rewilding, but what do these terms mean in a rapidly and irreversibly changing world? The ‘re’ prefix means ‘back’, but it is becoming clear that the traditional use of past ecosystems as targets and criteria for success must be replaced by an orientation towards an uncertain future. Current opinions in restoration and reintroduction biology range from a defense of traditional definitions, with some modifications, to acceptance of more radical responses, including assisted migration, taxon substitution, de-extinction, and genetic modification. Rewilding attempts to minimize sustained intervention, but this hands-off approach is also threatened by rapid environmental change.