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PLoS One. 2011;6(12):e28788. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0028788. Epub 2011 Dec 8.

Systematic conservation planning in the face of climate change: bet-hedging on the Columbia Plateau.

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  • 1School of Forest Resources, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, United States of America.


Systematic conservation planning efforts typically focus on protecting current patterns of biodiversity. Climate change is poised to shift species distributions, reshuffle communities, and alter ecosystem functioning. In such a dynamic environment, lands selected to protect today's biodiversity may fail to do so in the future. One proposed approach to designing reserve networks that are robust to climate change involves protecting the diversity of abiotic conditions that in part determine species distributions and ecological processes. A set of abiotically diverse areas will likely support a diversity of ecological systems both today and into the future, although those two sets of systems might be dramatically different. Here, we demonstrate a conservation planning approach based on representing unique combinations of abiotic factors. We prioritize sites that represent the diversity of soils, topographies, and current climates of the Columbia Plateau. We then compare these sites to sites prioritized to protect current biodiversity. This comparison highlights places that are important for protecting both today's biodiversity and the diversity of abiotic factors that will likely determine biodiversity patterns in the future. It also highlights places where a reserve network designed solely to protect today's biodiversity would fail to capture the diversity of abiotic conditions and where such a network could be augmented to be more robust to climate-change impacts.

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