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Moving the Conservation Goalposts

  • Patty Glick, Helen Chmura, Bruce Stein
  • Jul 20, 2011

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident, resource managers and conservationists are being challenged to rethink long-held assumptions and strategies. Preparing for and coping with the effects of climate change—or climate adaptation—is becoming an overarching framework for conservation, and offers insight into the reconsideration of existing goals and strategies. This is an exciting time for the relatively new field of adaptation as it continues to undergo rapid growth, expanding adoption, and continued evolution and refinement. This literature review, developed as a contribution to the Adaptation 20112 conference, is designed to help characterize the evolution of the field, and highlight key trends underway.

Adaptation 2011 is a sequel to a similar gathering held in June 2009. That previous conference—Adaptation 2009—brought together conservation policymakers, practitioners, and thought-leaders to explore the state of this emerging discipline. As part of that earlier conference we reviewed the adaptation literature as it stood at that time, summarized in the paper A New Era for Conservation (Glick, Staudt, and Stein 2009). That review covered recent advances in the science of climate change adaptation in the context of fish and wildlife conservation and management, and identified overarching principles for adaptation planning as well as barriers to implementation.

In the two years since that conference, the field has advanced considerably, from the perspective of both planning and implementation. Indeed, many agencies and organizations have begun shifting their focus to better deal with the impacts of climate change and plan for a future that will look very different than the past. For instance, at the federal level, an interagency climate adaptation task force has been convened that is providing high-level guidance to agencies for integrating adaptation into their planning and operations (CEQ 2010, 2011). Similarly, many non-governmental conservation organizations are now explicitly incorporating adaptation into their strategies and work plans. The collapse in late 2010 of efforts to pass comprehensive federal climate legislation, and consequent set-backs in achieving meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, has given added urgency and impetus to the field of climate change adaption.

The upcoming Adaptation 2011 conference provides an opportunity to review and reflect on changes over the past few years, and assess the current state of play in the field of natural resources adaptation. This paper is designed to support the conference by using the published literature as a means for understanding how the field is evolving.

This literature review consists of two major sections. The first is a broad scan of the published literature to identify major trends in the development of the field. This survey was based on queries of the Web of Science, a comprehensive online bibliographic database, and focuses on what can be referred to as self-identified adaptation literature (i.e., the term “adaptation” appears in the article or bibliographic entry). These papers were subsequently reviewed and categorized to provide a quantitative snapshot of the current adaptation literature. The second major section of this literature review focuses on one particular topic of interest to the resource management community: conservation goals in an era of climate change. In this section, we review literature relevant to the topic of reconsidering conservation goals in light of a rapidly shifting climate.

Moving the Conservation Goalposts

A review of climate change adaptation literature.


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