Better Habitat Networks in Europe Will Benefit People and Wildlife

Conservationists and policy makers are conscious that many species ranges’ may shift because of climate change, in fact many species have already begun to do so, (although this wasn’t detected convincingly in the recent Countryside Survey Report for the UK).

Recent research published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology investigated the extent to which the Natura 2000 network is capable of supporting European species in the face of climate change.

The investigators analysed how well connected forest, wetland and grassland ecosystems are across NW Europe now, and how they might become as a result of climate change. They also looked at the extent to which habitat networks will be able to facilitate species’ movement under a specific climate change model.

The findings suggest that protected areas currently suitable for many species, will no longer be able to support these species in the future. The available habitat for different species in the future will vary, for example available habitat for the black woodpecker Dryocopus martius, marsh warbler Acrocephalus palustris and meadow pipit Anthus pratensis is expected to be around 70%, whereas the agile frog Rana dalmatina and bittern Botaurus stellaris only 6-8%. Considerable range shifts were also predicted, for example the middle spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus medius is anticipated to become more abundant in Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark, as habitat becomes less suitable in France.

The authors emphasise the need to strengthen connectivity between ecosystem networks on a large spatial scale. Given the uncertainty surrounding the frequency of extreme weather events, how representative the study species are and the impact of curbing emissions on climate change, the precautionary principle should be applied.

Thus European policy should aim to broadly meet the needs of as many species as possible by increasing connectivity, whilst considering ecosystem services such as water regulation and carbon fixation. For example increasing wetlands across Europe will offer ecosystem services in terms of winter flood and summer drought alleviation, whilst providing increased connectivity for wetland species such as the bittern.

The research highlights the need to consider wildlife conservation in the context of future climate and habitat change. Presently BRANCH (Biodiversity Requires Adaptation in North Western Europe under a Changing Climate) are helping to fill the policy gaps, by pushing for the integration of planning with biodiversity needs.

The journal article is available for purchase from Wiley Interscience.

Read more about Natura 2000 here.

Source: Vos, C.C., Berry, P., Opdam, P. Baveco, H., Nijhof, B., O’Hanley, J., Bell, C., and Kuipers, H. (2008). Adapting landscapes to climate change: examples of climate-proof ecosystem networks and priority adaption zones. Journal of Applied Ecology. 45: 1722-1731.