Adaptation: Field of Action Biological Diversity

colourful flowering summer meadowClick to enlarge
Changes in climate can have negative consequences for many species and ecosystems.
Source: patzita/photocase.com

Climate change is changing the habitats of animals and plants, profoundly in some cases, thus threatening biodiversity directly and indirectly. The loss of biological diversity can be counteracted with various adaptation measures.

Technical measures

Nature reacts to changes in climatic conditions: It adapts. However, it is often hindered by the human way of life and economy. If this is the case, dynamic, spatial and temporal adaptation processes are often only possible to a limited extent.

Humans should therefore support the naturally existing dynamics and adaptation potential of nature by preserving and promoting the functionality of ecosystems. In order to preserve those animal and plant species that are bound to specific site and habitat conditions, they must be allowed to escape to the most favourable habitat. It is therefore important to look beyond the boundaries of protected areas to identify possible interlinked biotope systems. These are necessary conditions for the preservation of biodiversity.

Technical solutions play an important role in such a biotope network system. For many species, an interconnected system is a crucial prerequisite for adaptation to climate change. Corridor areas, guiding structures such as hedges and stepping stone habitats, hiking corridors and green bridges are used to connect habitats. These form the central building blocks of the network and are specifically geared to the species to be supported. The diversity of habitat structures in the landscape supports the networking of biotopes. At the same time, technical measures can reduce the barrier effect of traffic routes, river engineering and intensively used areas.

Ecosystem Measures

The creation of an effective system of interlinked biotopes, which is also the aim of Natura 2000, is probably one of the most important measures in the area of "green infrastructure". According to the Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG § 4), states must make at least 10 percent of their land area available for a biotope network. Therefore a large scale view is important.

By networking habitats, the migration and spread of species into future habitats should be made possible. Only through these territorial links can species affected by climate change find new suitable habitats. An effective system of interlinked biotopes is to be developed and established on a transnational basis. The fragmentation of natural systems and land consumption must be reduced and sectoral planning - for example for settlements, infrastructure and transport - must be adapted accordingly.

Other "green" measures include the creation and maintenance of near-natural green spaces in cities and alternative habitats. This also includes process protection as a nature conservation strategy based on non-intervention in the natural processes of ecosystems.

In addition, the protection of wetland habitats such as bogs and floodplains is an important measure that also contributes to climate protection. Targeted stabilization and improvement of the water balance, renaturation, rewetting, nature-conserving alternative uses and other measures should protect the particularly climate-sensitive habitats, not only in protected areas but already in their catchment areas. One measure for flood protection and at the same time species protection is the transfer to areas with natural flood dynamics, which allows a re-colonization with many floodplain-typical plant and animal species. By dismantling, relocating or slitting dikes at 79 rivers nationwide in the years from 1983 to 2017, 4,080 hectares of former floodplain area have been reconnected to the natural flood dynamics of running waters and are uncontrollably flooded during flood events.

In agriculture, further measures are possible that contribute to nature conservation. Gentle soil cultivation, protection of agricultural biodiversity and reduction of stress factors are to improve the synergy between agriculture, nature conservation, soil protection, water protection and climate protection. Organic farming represents an extremely environmentally friendly alternative to conventional agriculture.

Legal, political and management measures

National and international policy-makers are called upon to ensure the right framework conditions for the adaptation of nature conservation. To this end, the concept of nature conservation needs to be further developed in view of climate change. The aim must be to gear nature conservation in such a way that as many functional ecosystems as possible are preserved, in order to provide an intact habitat for as many species as possible. The focus on small-scale protected areas should be reconsidered. Flexible protected area boundaries can also be an effective solution in view of migrating species.
Special precautions are necessary for those species whose future habitats do not overlap with current distribution areas. In addition, species that are only capable of limited migration need special protection. In their case, targeted measures for settling in new habitats are conceivable.

The further development of the protected area system must take into account the requirements of climate change. The area of strictly protected areas has statistically significantly increased from 1,129,225 hectares in 2000 to 1,591,580 hectares in 2016. In terms of Germany's land area, this means an increase from 3.2% in 2000 to 4.4% in 2016. The increase in the area of strictly protected areas is partly due to the implementation of the Natura 2000 network.

The responsible state and nature conservation authorities can also take the changing climate conditions into account when drawing up maintenance and development plans and management plans for protected areas and adapt them on an ongoing basis. For example, more than two-thirds of the landscape programs now mention topics of climate protection and adaptation to climate change in connection with nature conservation issues. An important instrument is adaptive management, which enables dynamic management of protected areas. Protection goals can be continually be evaluated and adapted to changing conditions.

The monitoring of climate impacts on biodiversity plays an important role. The conservation of biological diversity requires cross-national cooperation and early exchange of information. Against this background, a monitoring system for climate impacts and measures already initiated as well as the precise definition of target criteria is important. Monitoring and early warning systems are also useful for supporting particularly affected species and biotopes and for dealing with invasive species. Based on their results, risk assessments can be made and recommendations for action can be issued. Only in this way can climate-related risks and new requirements be addressed in a targeted and efficient manner.

In mid-2020, the EU Commission presented a new biodiversity strategy for 2030. The aim is to develop a restoration plan for nature with binding targets. 30 per cent of land and sea areas are to be placed under nature conservation, building on the existing Natura 2000 areas. The decline of insects and birds on agricultural land is to be curbed, as is the bycatch of protected species in the oceans. Other targets include 25,000 kilometers of free-flowing rivers and three billion newly planted trees. The EU wants to promote research on biodiversity more strongly. According to the Commission, at least 20 billion euros per year are to be invested in nature conservation and the restoration of ecosystems to achieve these goals.

If you are interested in the concrete consequences of climate change in the field of biodiversity, please click here.