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Assisted colonization: Integrating conservation strategies in the face of climate change

Loss, Scott R., Terwilliger, Lauren A., Peterson, Anna C.
Biological conservation 2011 v.144 no.1 pp. 92-100
adaptation, biodiversity, biologists, climate, climate change, ecosystems, genetics, habitats, invasive species, new species, prediction, uncertainty
Global climate change poses an immense challenge for conservation biologists seeking to mitigate impacts to species and ecosystems. Species persistence will depend on geographic range shifts or adaptation in response to warming patterns as novel climates and community assemblages arise. Assisted colonization has been proposed as a method for addressing these challenges. This technique, which consists of transporting species to a new range that is predicted to be favorable for persistence under future climate scenarios, has become the subject of controversy and discussion in the conservation community due to its highly manipulative nature, questions about widespread feasibility, and uncertainty associated with the likelihood of translocated species becoming invasive. We reviewed the discussion and criticism associated with assisted colonization and sought to identify other conservation techniques that also display potential to promote the colonization and adaptation of species in response to climate change. We propose an integrated conservation strategy that includes management for habitat connectivity, conservation genetics, and when necessary, assisted colonization of species that are still unable to shift their ranges even given implementation of the above standard conservation approaches. We argue that this integrated approach will facilitate persistence for a larger proportion of species than is possible by solely using assisted colonization. Furthermore, a multi-faceted approach will likely reduce the uncertainty of conservation outcomes and will become increasingly necessary for conservation of biodiversity in a changing climate.