Dynamic Conservation

In an era of rapid global change, how can conservationists provide habitat where and when nature needs it most?

Movements and migration routes expected as species adapt to a rapidly changing climate. © Dan Majka/TNC (Migrations in Motion)

Almost every day we have new evidence of the pace and magnitude of global changes and how these changes are testing the resilience of ecological and social systems. Climate change is upending traditional land uses and creating unpredictability across the spectrum of urban, agricultural, and natural ecosystems. Nature, people, and conservation are going to need to adapt to this changing world.

Protected areas may be increasingly insufficient to provide the amount and distribution of habitat needed by species and ecosystems. Adaptable solutions are needed.

Dynamic conservation strategies which are designed to create, retain or enhance habitat in temporary and adaptable ways, can reinforce the value of protected areas and help species persist in a changing world. Developing and deploying dynamic conservation strategies is especially important for migratory species, marine systems and for adaptive management of climate change-driven species redistributions. Dynamic conservation strategies will become increasingly important for biodiversity conservation, especially as a means of facilitating adaptation to climate change and its concomitant variability and extremes, such as extended drought.

One example of dynamic conservation in action is the Conservancy’s BirdReturns project which pairs birding and farmland management with innovations in big data, crowd-sourcing and online auctioneering to deliver habitat where and when migrating birds need it most. Building on that success, the Conservancy is exploring new applications of dynamic conservation tools to help with groundwater recharge and assisted migration for sandhill cranes.

Applying our science

Recent studies show that migratory species are especially vulnerable to inadequate protection, habitat loss and climate change, contributing to the decline of more than half of migratory bird species across all major flyways. Fortunately, recent advances in big data analytics, remote sensing, citizen science and market-based conservation can be deployed to unlock more dynamic approaches to conservation and adaptively meet conservation needs of migratory species. Such strategies, for example, can seek to “rent” habitat from private landowners through short-term agreements, rather than relying solely on expensive land acquisition.

Conservancy scientists collaborated with Cornell Lab of Ornithology on predictive models of migratory waterbird movements based on citizen science observations uploaded to eBird, a vast repository of millions of records of bird occurrence and abundance. These data were combined with wetland habitat information, derived from NASA satellite images in collaboration with Point Blue Conservation Science, to determine gaps in habitat in California during vital stages of the annual migration. The Conservancy then filled those gaps using a reverse auction marketplace to incent qualifying landowners to create temporary wetlands on their properties.

The Conservancy is able to adjust the extent and distribution of habitat to adapt to changing conditions on the ground, from droughts to floods. This approach is a cost-effective way of adaptively meeting habitat needs for migratory species, optimizes conservation outcomes relative to investment, and can be applied broadly to other conservation challenges.


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