Adaptation for future climate warming: the role of habitat creation in promoting species' range shifts.

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Biology

Abstract

There is an emerging consensus that many animal species are responding to current climate warming by shifting their distributions northwards. However, in order to track climate, species must be able to disperse through landscapes that have been greatly altered by human activities, and where breeding habitats are often fragmented and scattered across inhospitable urban and agricultural landscapes. Because of this habitat loss, some species are failing to shift and are lagging behind climate changes because they are unable to reach new sites beyond the range margin. This failure to shift is of great concern because many species that are lagging behind climate are endangered species of high conservation concern. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were greatly reduced immediately, more warming would still occur because of inertia in the Earth's climate system. Thus there is a commitment to future warming regardless of any mitigation, and so adaptation measures are required urgently. One commonly suggested adaptation measure is the creation of new habitats as 'corridors' or 'stepping stones' to allow species to move through unsuitable landscapes, and to help them colonise new sites. However, this notion of habitat creation is essentially untested, and there is no comprehensive study of whether such adaptation methods might be successful, or how they might be implemented. The proposed work will provide the first systematic analysis of the importance of habitat availability on distribution lags in an entire group of insects (butterflies). We will develop new dynamic computer models that simulate range expansion through realistic British landscapes. The models take account of the availability of habitat and suitable climate, and also include biological processes such as dispersal, birth and death rates. We will (1) develop and validate dynamic models for all 46 resident, southerly-distributed British butterfly species. We will (2) use these models to quantify the degree to which habitat limits species' range expansion. We will (3) use models to examine the success of different habitat creation scenarios to examine which, if any, scenarios would be sufficient to allow range expansion, and which adaptation strategy is the best. The project will produce results of considerable practical value, as well as addressing fundamental questions about limits to species ranges. It will open up a new avenue of research on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. Conservation strategies must include adaptation strategies, but conservationists are uncertain about what to do. The proposed work will provide a concrete body of scientific evidence to inform this debate.

Publications

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Thomas CD (2013) Reconciling biodiversity and carbon conservation. in Ecology letters

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Thomas CD (2012) Protected areas facilitate species' range expansions. in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

 
Description Climate-driven range expansions at leading-edge (northern) range margins are evident in a wide variety of species. However, for many species, losses of habitats have prevented range expansion because newly-available, climatically-suitable habitats are too remote to be colonised. Thus many species are failing to track current climate. The creation of new habitats and the improvement of existing habitats are recommended to facilitate species dispersal and range expansion in fragmented landscapes, but there is no consensus as to the likely success of such adaptation measures. The dynamic modelling techniques necessary for this type of investigation are still in their infancy, and the development of new models formed a novel and important part of the research programme. The main aims of the project were (a) to develop new dynamic models to predict rates of range expansion, (b) to determine the extent to which climate or habitat availability are constraining range expansions, and (c) to assess whether habitat creation could be effective in enabling species to track climate and expand their ranges through modern fragmented landscapes. (a) Developing new dynamic models. We have developed 'SPEED' that is a spatially-explicit, individual (agent)-based dynamic model that includes the dispersal ability of species, as well as their population dynamics, and simulates range changes of species across real landscapes in relation to temporal and spatial variation in climate suitability and habitat availability. We successfully have used the model to simulate range expansion of Pararge aegeria (speckled wood butterfly) in the UK. (b) Examining factors constraining range expansions. Species respond individualistically to climate change, and we examined whether responses are consistent over time by comparing responses of British butterflies over two study periods. In general, the responses of species were inconsistent over time. The idiosyncratic responses of the study species likely reflected the balance of climatic and habitat drivers of species distribution and abundance changes. We have also examined how the characteristics of local environments explain variation in the extent to which British butterfly species expand their geographic ranges in response to climate warming. We conclude that stable (or positive) abundance trends are a prerequisite for range expansion. Thus mobile generalist species with good dispersal ability and high availability of habitat may not always successfully track climate warming if their abundances are declining. (c) The role of habitat creation in promoting range expansion. We developed a model to simulate range expansion across a heavily fragmented landscape in Britain, and investigated the effectiveness of six habitat creation strategies for woodland, grassland, heathland, and wetland habitats. A strategy aimed at linking clusters of habitat patches was most effective for facilitating range expansion for three of the four habitat types. Our results also highlighted that the best spatial pattern to facilitate range expansion is different from the best pattern to prevent extinction.
Exploitation Route Currently using the SPEED model that we developed to test new fundamental questions about climate change impacts for species.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description PhD
Amount £1 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2014 
End 09/2018
 
Description PhD
Amount £1 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2012 
End 09/2016
 
Description Standard Grant
Amount £388,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Description Standard Grant
Amount £610,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2010 
End 09/2013
 
Description Urgency grant
Amount £65,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2014 
End 12/2014
 
Title SPEED 
Description Dynamic model to simulate range shifting by species under climate change in relation to habitat availability 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Publications revealing how the model can be used to understand the relative importance of different biotic and abiotic factors on range shifting by species. 
URL https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B0SdcsEswe_lQ3QzUVVkMTN2Tkk&usp=sharing
 
Description Soapbox Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sparked discussions with members of the public who were passing the soapbox

None
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://soapboxscience.org/