Complex Effects of Climate Change on Nature Reserve Networks at Macroscales

Protected areas such as nature reserves have been a major cornerstone of biodiversity conservation. However, human activities have compromised conservation goals in many nature reserves, and climate change poses additional threats to their long-term viability and success. Although some studies have analyzed climate change impacts on the conservation effectiveness of nature reserves, most have focused on individual nature reserves in localized regions. The goals of this project are to assess the changes in species distribution within and across networks of nature reserves in broad geographic regions, and to analyze the effects of climate change on the long-term survival of plant and animal species. An exceptional setting for achieving the objectives is the globally important forested macrosystem that is the historical geographic range of the world-famous endangered giant panda (2.2 million km2 across 19 provinces of China). Across this vast macrosystem there are currently 63 panda reserves and over 1,000 reserves for other purposes, which together constitute a reserve meta-network (network of networks). Using state-of-the-art climate change projections, remote sensing techniques, meta-uncertainty analyses, and species distribution models, a multi-disciplinary and international team of researchers will analyze climate change impacts on conservation effectiveness of this meta-network of reserves as well as current and future geographic distribution of the panda and around 30 bamboo species that comprise 99% of its diet.

This National Science Foundation-funded project will lead to transformative and significant outcomes, such as testing and extending two fundamental theories (niche theory and connectivity theory) at macroscales. It will also generate powerful and lasting broader impacts. Through active engagement with stakeholders, the research team will use project results to develop and evaluate effective and efficient conservation strategies of global importance in the context of climate change. Improving conservation strategies for a well-known charismatic endangered species will help to increase the public awareness of the potential climate change impacts on biodiversity, and encourage public engagement on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Through strategic communication and hands-on workshops, the results and methods will be widely disseminated to inspire others to analyze the impacts of climate change on other species and other nature reserve networks around the world. Furthermore, the project will train undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral scholars, who will gain broad and deep knowledge and learn important skills to become future visionary leaders and globally-engaged researchers who can creatively address future challenges to biodiversity research and conservation.

Investigators: Jianguo "Jack" LiuAndrés Viña and Julie Winkler

Lead Investigator: