Nature responds to changes in climatic conditions: It adapts itself. However, this process is frequently impeded by the human way of life and the economy. If this is the case, dynamic spatial and temporal adaptation processes are often only possible to a limited extent.
For that reason, humans should support the naturally existing dynamics and the adaptation potential of nature by preserving and promoting the functionality of ecosystems. To preserve those animal and plant species that are bound to specific location and habitat conditions, they have to be given the opportunity to move to whatever habitat is most suitable for each of them. Thus, a large-scale assessment of protected areas beyond their boundaries is important to identify potential interlinked systems of biotopes. These requirements are necessary for the preservation of biodiversity.
Technical solutions play an important role for such interlinked habitat systems. Many species need such a system because it is a crucial prerequisite for adaptation to climate change. In practice, interlinking habitats requires corridor areas, lead structures such as hedges and stepping stone habitats, migration corridors and green bridges. These are crucial elements and are specifically geared to the respectively supported species. At the same time, technical measures can reduce the barrier effect of roads, waterway constructions and intensively used areas. The diversity of habitat structures in the landscape further supports the linking of biotopes.
The creation of an effective system of interlinked biotopes, which is also an objective of Natura 2000, is probably one of the most important measures in the area of “green infrastructure”. According to the Nature Conservation Act (Federal Nature Conservation Act § 4), the federal states have to make at least 10 percent of their land area available for habitat network purposes. A large-scale examination is thus important.
The purpose of interlinking habitats is to enable migration to and distribution of species in future habitats. Species affected by climate change can only find new suitable habitats through these territorial connections. For that reason, an effective habitat network shall be developed and implemented across the federal states. The fragmentation of natural systems and land use must be reduced, and sectoral planning – for example concerning settlements, infrastructure or transport – has to be adapted accordingly.
Other “green” measures involve the installation and maintenance of near-natural green spaces in cities and alternate habitats. Another measure is the process protection as a nature conservation strategy that is based on the non-interference with natural processes of ecosystems.
Furthermore, the protection of wetland habitats such as swamps and water meadows is an important measure, which at the same time contributes to climate protection. Targeted stabilisation and improvement of the water balance, restoration, rewetting, nature-friendly alternative types of use and other measures shall protect the particularly climate-sensitive habitats not only in protected areas, but already in their catchment areas.
In agriculture, there are further possible measures that contribute to nature conservation. Careful soil cultivation, the protection of the biological diversity of agriculture and a reduction of stress factors are meant to improve the synergy between agriculture, nature conservation, soil conservation, water conservation and climate protection. In that respect, organic farming constitutes an extremely environmentally friendly alternative to conventional agriculture.
Legal, political and management measures
Policies at the federal and state level but also the international level have to ensure that suitable framework conditions for the dynamic adaptation of nature conservation are established. For this purpose, the concept of nature conservation needs to be refined with regard to climate change. The aim is to align nature conservation so as to ensure that as many functional ecosystems as possible are maintained to provide a maximum number of species with intact habitats. The focus on small-scale protected areas should be reconsidered. Also flexible habitat boundaries can be an effective solution in view of migrating species.
Special precautionary measures are necessary for those species whose future habitats have no overlaps with their current distribution areas. In addition, species that are only capable of migrating to a limited degree require special protection. In their case, targeted measures introducing them to new habitats are worth considering.
The development of the system of protected areas must take into account climate change requirements. In that context, the EU’s network of protected areas “Natura 2000” is already making an important contribution to the interlinking of protected areas and thus to the reduction of negative impacts of climate change. Furthermore, also the competent state and nature conservation authorities can take the changing climatic conditions into account when compiling maintenance and development plans and management plans for protected areas. In that regard, adaptive management, which allows for a dynamic management of protected areas, is an important tool. Protection objectives can be re-evaluated and adapted to changing conditions.
Also the monitoring of climate impacts on biodiversity plays an important role. The conservation of biological diversity requires transnational cooperation and a timely exchange of information. Against this background, a monitoring system for climate impacts and already initiated measures and the precise definition of target criteria is of crucial importance, too. Monitoring and early warning systems are also useful in order to support particularly affected species and habitats as well as for dealing with invasive species. Based on their results, risk assessments can be carried out and recommendations can be made. This is the only way to ensure that climate-related hazards and new requirements are addressed specifically and efficiently.
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