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Mapping Impacts, Threats and Strategies for Adaptation: The Yale Mapping Framework

Groves, Craig 8/6/2012

Nearly three years ago, The Nature Conservancy held a Climate Clinic in which 20 project teams from around the globe assessed the likely impacts of climate change on natural systems and biodiversity and proposed changes in project goals and strategies to abate and mitigate these impacts. At that point, most conservation organizations had focused the bulk of their efforts on emissions reduction such as “cap and trade” legislation in the United States, only to see those efforts ultimately fail. With mitigation of emissions unlikely at the federal level in the United States, most institutions have turned to placing greater attention on adaptation strategies. But what are the most effective approaches to adaptation?

In late 2009, several important papers on adaptation were published, including Nicole Heller and Erika Zavaleta’s review in Biological Conservation of 22 years worth of adaptation recommendations. Most recommendations before this lacked the specifics on who, how and under what conditions they might be implemented. Heller and Zavaleta identified several important gaps in adapation, including the need for a “practical adaptation planning process.”

At the same time, three major foundations that fund biodiversity conservation projects (Kresge, Doris Duke and Wilburforce) were noticing both an increase in funds requested for undertaking a variety of adaptation actions, but also that the proposals contained a confusing mix of approaches. They decided to assemble a panel of respected scientists and natural resource managers from across the agency, academic and nongovernmental communities to synthesize and advance the best overall planning approaches for adaptation in landscape conservation. The resulting effort is referred to as the Yale Mapping Framework (so named because the panel is led by Dr. Os Schmitz of Yale University) — an integration of climate adaptation and landscape conservation planning (see for details on the framework).

At the heart of the framework are six adaptation approaches that can each be applied at three different levels of ecological analysis (landscapes; ecosystems; and species and populations). The adaptation approaches include:

  • Protecting current patterns of biodiversity;
  • Protecting future patterns through projections of impacts and species/ecosystem responses;
  • Maintaining ecological process and function;
  • Maintaining and restoring connectivity;
  • Protecting climate refugia, and
  • Protecting the ecological stage (compliments of TNC’s Mark Anderson and colleagues work among others).

The real strength of the framework lies in the approaches, tools and databases it provides to help planners and scientists determine the appropriate methods and available data for applying any one of the basic approaches to one or more of the ecological levels of analysis. It’s relatively easy on the DataBasin website to “drill down” to learn about the available models and methods for any given approach and level as well as to learn about the assumptions, strengths and weaknesses of those models and methods. A separate page of the website provides extensive information on biological, cultural and abiotic datasets available for applying these basic approaches.

Beyond the development of the framework itself, the Yale project has provided several grants to “test” different aspects of the framework and strengthen it. Details on the grantees’ projects and preliminary results are provided on the DataBasin website and have been the subject of symposia at the 2012 NatureServe and SCB annual meetings.

The target audience for the framework’s use is landscape planners and scientists in agencies and conservation organizations in North America. The framework’s orientation is largely terrestrial with some application to freshwater and coastal marine systems; the emphasis is on geospatial analyses. Beyond these limitations, Conservancy practitioners and scientists should find much to like and use in applying the framework and its methods and data to help advance adaptation in our own landscape and seascape projects. 

By Craig Groves, director, conservation methods, Central Science Team, The Nature Conservancy and member of the Yale Science Panel on Adaptation