“Enduring geophysical features such as topography, soil, rocks and water, form the stage on which nature’s play is enacted and can be used to prioritize sites for conservation” – Beier et al. 2015

Conserving Nature’s Stage (CNS) refers to the value of explicitly incorporating landform, bedrock, soil, and topography (collectively “geodiversity” or “enduring features”) into conservation planning as a coarse filter for current and future biodiversity. The approach is attractive because it focuses conservation on the physical factors that create diversity in the first place, while allowing species and communities to rearrange in response to a changing climate. It provides a logical structure for designing conservation networks that assume nature is dynamic and resilient, and challenges us to create arenas for evolution not museums of the past.
   

 

Conservation Biology Special Section: Conserving Nature’s Stage - Con Bio 29(3) 611-701)

 Good ideas don’t always translate into sound practices. With that in mind, Paul Beier, Mac Hunter and Mark Anderson hosted a workshop in 2013 to hammer out issues inherent in the conserving nature’s stage (CNS) approach. With support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, they gathered scientists and conservationist from around the globe who have been testing the approach in a wide variety of situations. After three days of intensive dialog, and two years of collaborative writing among 33 authors, the result is a notable collection of ten papers. While not every question is addressed, we hope you’ll agree they tackled some good ones.

Preface: Mark Shaffer, National Climate Change Policy Advisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Introduction and Summary: Paul Beier, Malcolm Hunter and Mark Anderson 
 

Is CNS rooted in sound ecological theory? Lawler et al. (2015) provides a history of the approach and abundant evidence that geodiversity is a major driver of species distributions and ecological processes in terrestrial systems. They note that the influence of geodiversity appears strongest at mid-sized spatial extents where conservation planning often happens (landscapes to regions), whereas climate might dominate at continental extents and biotic interactions might dominate at local extents.
 
How does CNS relate to people and ecosystem services? Hjort et al. (2015) explain that ecosystems are the product of 3 realms of diversity (geo-, bio-, and climate diversity) and that geodiversity underpins or directly delivers most types of ecosystem services. Thus, although CNS emphasizes geodiversity mainly for its contribution to biodiversity, geophysical features often merit protection for their own sake and for the benefits they provide to people.
 
Did geodiversity buffer species extinction in past climate change episodes? Summarizing evidence from the last 2.6 million years, Gill et al. (2015) report that although past episodes of climate change produced many local extinctions, geodiversity apparently minimized the number of global extinctions caused by climate change. They conclude that CNS explicitly acknowledges dynamic processes, including extinction, evolution, community turnover, and novelty. That is, it acknowledges change—not as a hindrance to conservation, but as “intrinsic properties of the very nature we aim to conserve.”
 
Are we already conserving nature’s stages?  Sanderson et al. (2015) provide the first global map of geodiversity types and then estimate how much of each of the 672 types are in protected status in each of 8 biogeographic realms. Future conservation efforts should focus on the least protected types: low elevation environments and geology and soils that are also the most productive for agriculture.
 
Is CNS relevant to marine conservation? Sutcliffe et al. (2015) demonstrate that tropical marine sites selected to span abiotic surrogates would conserve most species in 11 marine phyla. Abiotic surrogates were especially effective when the variables used to define surrogates were weighted according to their influence on species turnover.
 
If CNS is going to work for future climates shouldn’t it also work for current climates? Beier et al (2015) review many tests of how well abiotic diversity (geodiversity and climate diversity combined) represents current species. They report that abiotic surrogates represent plant species well and that recently improved abiotic surrogates can greatly improve representation of plants, vertebrates, and marine organisms. The results support the use of abiotic surrogates in areas that lack species data.
 

How does CNS relate to traditional biodiversity-based conservation planning efforts?  In a compendium of 8 case studies Anderson et al. (2015) found that geodiversity targets have already been added to many traditional conservation plans, and usually did not increase the total area prioritized or decrease the achievement of other targets. At a minimum, incorporating geodiversity is a low-cost type of bet hedging which results in conservation networks more robust to climate changes and also compatible and complementary to existing plans. 

 How does CNS relate to the protection of individual species? Comer et al. (2015) describe how geodiversity can be incorporated into the work of agencies with legal, political, and cultural mandates to focus on conservation of particular species. They suggest that landscapes can be classified into four vulnerability classes depending on their current geodiversity, ecological intactness, and connectivity. For each class they suggest particular activities to manage disturbance, restoration, and connectivity.

 
The Special Section
The section starts with an excellent editorial introduction by Mark Shaffer, National Climate Change Policy Advisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, followed by an overview by Paul Beier, Mac Hunter and Mark Anderson:

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 Key Resources