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Researchers: New Strategies Needed to Reduce Animal and Plant Extinction

March 31, 2011 — Conservationists may need to change their approach to protecting animals and plants from extinction if they are to successfully shield key species and habitats from the effects of global climate change, according to a new review in the global scientific journal, Science.

The article, “Beyond Predictions: Biodiversity Conservation in a Changing Climate,” is written by Stephen T. Jackson, a professor in the University of Wyoming Department of Botany and Program in Ecology, and four colleagues from Scotland, England and Australia.

The authors cite evidence that climate change poses threats to biodiversity conservation. They say more accurate assessments of these threats are necessary to develop adequate management strategies and conservation plans and policies.

"Now is the time for conservation biology to move beyond predictions to analysis, diagnosis, and design and implementation of effective measures to protect biodiversity," the authors say.

So far, assessments of biodiversity vulnerability (or threat) for climate change have been based mainly on a single approach that focuses solely on exposure of species to climate change, says Jackson. However, exposure is only one aspect of vulnerability. 

"The focus on exposure alone may overestimate or underestimate the real vulnerability faced by many species," he says. "Sensitivity and adaptive capacity are also important. A more comprehensive vulnerability assessment, emphasizing exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity should be developed."

Such a comprehensive strategy can draw upon a wide array of information sources, including observations and monitoring; ecological experiments; records of ecological consequences of past climate change; and computational models incorporating ecological and evolutionary processes.

"Effective conservation will rely on improved understanding of the nature of the climate threat to species, and how it interacts with their natural coping mechanisms," Jackson says. "We can leverage natural adaptive capacity to minimize risks and maximize desirable outcomes."

Adopting an integrated approach to vulnerability assessment will yield more effective short- and long-term strategies for biodiversity conservation, provide more flexibility to resource managers and policymakers, and promote more efficient allocation of financial and other resources in conservation efforts, he adds.

The other authors are T. P. Dawson, University of Dundee, Scotland; J. I. House, University of Bristol, England; I. C. Prentice, Macquarie University, Australia; and G. M. Mace, Imperial College London, England.

To read the complete article, visit

Moose have survived climate change in the past, but at a cost of reduced genetic diversity and periods of high extinction risk. A team of researchers including University of Wyoming Professor Stephen T. Jackson says tools are in place to develop more comprehensive strategies to protect species from the threats posed by climate change. (

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