Conserving Alberta’s Biodiversity Under Climate Change: A Review and Analysis of Adaptation Measures

Richard Schneider
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As a province and a nation we have committed to conserving our native biodiversity. In this discussion paper I examine this goal through the lens of climate change. The intent is to draw attention to issues that need to be addressed and to illustrate options for adapting our current system of biodiversity management to the new realities we face.
The first step in developing effective adaptation measures is to gain a clear understanding of the risk that climate change poses to Alberta’s biodiversity. What are we adapting to? The mean annual temperature in Alberta is projected to increase between 2-4 °C by the 2080s, and possibly as high as 6.5 °C under the maximum-change scenario. A small increase in precipitation is expected; however, because of the drying effect of warmer temperatures, soil moisture levels will likely be lower, particularly during summer months. As a result of these climatic changes,
ecosystems are expected to shift northwards and upslope.
Although ecological transitions are expected to be widespread, under even the least-change climate scenario, ecological change is not synonymous with the loss of biodiversity. The actual risk to biodiversity depends on net changes in habitat supply, spatial location, and the ability of individual species to accommodate change. The most dramatic declines in habitat supply are expected in the boreal forest, where widespread transition to parkland and grassland ecosystems is likely under moderate to high levels of warming. Ecosystems found at high elevations are also expected to decline in extent, through replacement by ecosystems from below. The species with
the lowest capacity for intrinsic adaptation include those with specialized habitat requirements and those with low dispersal ability, among other traits (e.g., amphibians).