Overview of concepts, potentials, issues, and realities of assisted migration for climate change adaptation

By Louis R. Iverson, Matthew P. Peters, Stephen Matthews, and Anantha Prasad

Newtown Square, PA (December 13, 2013) – The climate has always been changing, but the rapid rate of climate change, as projected by the IPCC (2007) will likely place unique stresses on plant communities. In addition, anthropogenic barriers (e.g., fragmented land use) present a significant modern constraint that will limit the ability of species migration in responses to a changing climate.

As such, managers are faced with four options that lay along a continuum when managing species in the face of climate change:

  1. They can do nothing, and therefore allow existing landscapes to change without active intervention, accepting unknown or risky outcomes;
  2. They can rely on passive resource management strategies to allow accommodation, such as linking existing preserves with corridors;
  3. They can actively manage landscapes to preserve them as they are, thus create refuges. Such habitat management would include actions like preventing invasions, installing irrigation, and regulating biotic interactions; or
  4. They can actively manage landscapes to convert them into something deemed more compatible with projected climatic conditions.

This last example of management would include assisted migration. The specific risks and benefits of each of these actions will depend upon the magnitude of climate pressure, the context of the ecosystem and its landscape, and the goals of human decisions.

This paper describes some options on how to decide among the above choices, introduces assisted migration, and describes the possible ramifications associated with it. We then present one research approach to assist in locating and evaluating potential applications of assisted migration.

Source: An overview of some concepts, potentials, issues, and realities of assisted migration for climate change adaptation in forests,” US Forest Service.