Reserve Design under Climate Change: From Land Facets Back to Ecosystem Representation

Richard Schneider
Erin Bayne
Resource Date:

Ecosystem distributions are expected to shift as a result of global warming, raising concerns about the long-term utility of reserve systems based on coarse-filter ecosystem representation. We tested the extent to which proportional ecosystem representation targets would be maintained under a changing climate by projecting the distribution of the major ecosystems of Alberta, Canada, into the future using bioclimatic envelope models and then calculating the composition of reserves in successive periods. We used the Marxan conservation planning software to generate the suite of reserve systems for our test, varying the representation target and degree of reserve clumping. Our climate envelope projections for the 2080s indicate that virtually all reserves will, in time, be comprised of different ecosystem types than today. Nevertheless, our proportional targets for ecosystem representation were maintained across all time periods, with only minor exceptions. We hypothesize that this stability in representation arises because ecosystems may be serving as proxies for land facets, the stable abiotic landscape features that delineate major arenas of biological activity. The implication is that accommodating climate change may not require abandoning the conventional ecosystem-based approach to reserve design in favour of a strictly abiotic approach, since the two approaches may be largely synonymous.