Anticipating the ecological impacts of agricultural adaptation to climate change

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Global change research in the fields of ecology and conservation biology primarily focuses on how changing climatic variables will directly impact species and ecosystems. Less attention is paid to understanding the potential impacts of human adaptation, even though history suggests these might be larger and more rapid than the more gradual effects of changing temperature and precipitation regimes. A recent paper in Conservation Biology by Lyndon Estes and collaborators at Princeton (Michael Oppenheimer, David Wilcove, and Jonathan Green in the Woodrow Wilson School) and several other institutions provides an initial method for anticipating where agricultural land use shifts due to climate change are most likely to happen.  The approach is based on quantifying the agricultural utility of land, which is strongly correlated with the likelihood that it be converted to farmland, and how this value is altered by climate change. Applying this measure to areas of conservation interest provides a framework for understanding how the pressure to transform these lands to agricultural uses might change under future climates.  This method can be readily incorporated into existing conservation planning frameworks.  The paper is available for download at the journal’s website, and more detailed summaries are available

here and here.

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