Adapting to Climate Change

Florida is home to an incredible diversity of native fish and wildlife including 386 species of birds, 86 species of mammals, 90 species of reptiles, 136 species of fish and 56 species of amphibians. Rising temperatures and sea level will likely change the makeup of entire ecosystems, forcing wildlife to shift their ranges or adapt. Adaptation involves minimizing the impacts of climate change already set in motion.

Climate change is proceeding at a pace in which there will be unavoidable impacts to natural systems and fish and wildlife habitat. The effects of climate change are already being felt by wildlife and natural systems, and even with immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions those effects will continue for decades to come. Florida's natural resource managers are just coming to grips with what this means for the state's fish, wildlife and habitats.

Climate change effects include changing rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and sea level, changing ocean chemistry, more wildfires, stronger hurricanes and increased droughts. These and other effects are predicted to intensify in the coming decades and significantly impact wildlife and ecosystems. Some uncertainty remains regarding exactly how these impacts will occur, but there is enough information now to begin planning and adapting to these changes.

To prepare for the anticipated impacts of climate change, the FWC has further incorporated climate change into Florida's Wildlife Action Plan (previously known as Florida's Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy) using guidance provided by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies in a document called " Voluntary Guidance for States to Incorporate Climate Change into State Wildlife Action Plans and other Management Plans."

The FWC partnered with Defenders of Wildlife and the Massachusetts Institute of Technol­ogy (MIT) to evaluate select species using the NatureServe Climate Change Vulnerability Index (CCVI) and spatial simulation modeling. These assessments provided the FWC and partners with information on how the species may be affected by climate change and how much of their habitat they may lose to predicted sea-level rise. That information was then used to begin identifying adaptation strategies that could help reduce climate change impacts on Florida's wildlife. This research was summarized and compiled into a revised chapter in Florida's Wildlife Action Plan called "Florida Adapting to Climate Change." For complete details of the assessments, please see MIT's report "Considering Climate Change in Florida's Wildlife Action Planning: A Spatial Resilience Planning Approach" and Defenders of Wildlife's report "Integrating Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments Into Adaptation Planning."

Considering Climate Change in State Wildlife Action Planning, Florida (Report cover) Integrating Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments into Adaption Planning (Report cover)

The purpose of this work is to help reduce the risk of adverse outcomes to Florida's wildlife communities. This will be done by implementing adaption strategies that have been identified and increasing resilience of natural ecosystems to climate change stressors such as increased temperatures, sea level rise, decreased or increased seasonal rainfall and higher carbon dioxide levels.

Adaptation strategies may include:

  • Acquisition, protection and management of a statewide network of conserved lands and waters that will serve as buffers, corridors, and habitable areas necessary to make natural systems more resilient to the impacts of climate change
  • Restoration and rehabilitation of ecosystems that have been lost or compromised
  • Reduction of other non-climate pressures such as invasive species, pollution and habitat fragmentation that hinder the ability of species and ecosystems to withstand climatic events
  • New or improved management options such as maximizing stream flow, prescribed burning and other efforts to protect key ecosystem features.

To learn more about climate change adaptation, read the survey summary from Climate Change Adaptation Across the Landscape: A survey of federal and state agencies, conservation organizations and academic institutions in the United States by authors Katie Theoharides, Gerald Barnhart and Patty Glick.

To help explain climate change adaptation, Nature.org spoke with Jonathan Hoekstra, The Nature Conservancy's director of emerging strategies, to get the details.

Visit the National Wildlife Federation's Climate-Smart Conservation section to learn more about adaptation and assessing species vulnerability.



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