Abstract 162

Abstract ID: 162

S2S Forecasts for Biodiversity Conservation

Lead Author: Victoria L. Boult
University of Reading, United Kingdom

Keywords: Extreme weather, Biodiversity, Decision making

Abstract: Climate change is set to become a major driver of biodiversity loss within the 21st century. To date, research into the effects of climate change on biodiversity has largely focused on the gradual response of species to incremental climate change over centennial timescales. However, the role that extreme weather events play in biodiversity loss is of growing concern; under climate change scenarios, the frequency and severity of extreme weather is projected to increase. In combination, the “press” of incremental climate change and “pulses” of extreme weather mean ecological thresholds, or tipping-points, are breached more often.
Conservation strategies to mitigate the impacts of extreme weather have traditionally fallen into two categories: long-term resilience building and short-term disaster response. Long-term resilience building strategies seek to secure sufficient suitable habitat to act as refugia during extreme weather, and has largely been realised through the expansion of the global protected areas network. Short-term disaster response involves the rescue and rehabilitation of wildlife after an extreme weather event.
However, these existing strategies have limitations. The expansion of protected areas is chronically underfunded and uncertainties in climate projections pose a scientific challenge in accurately identifying suitable habitats for protection in future climates. For short-term disaster response, the problem is that by this point, most impacts have already been realised and significant losses of biodiversity may have already occurred.
There is a need for a new approach to help mitigate the impacts of extreme weather on biodiversity. This approach should focus on shorter, more immediate timeframes to minimise the uncertainties associated with climate projections and align more closely with decision making horizons, should be anticipatory rather than responsive, and must be cost-effective. I believe that recent advances in sub-seasonal to seasonal (S2S) meteorological forecasting may provide such a solution.
Meteorological forecasts at S2S timescales now provide reliable early warnings of many extreme weather events, including flooding, drought and cyclones. Early warnings present a window of opportunity in which anticipatory actions, triggered by forecasts, can mitigate the impacts of extreme weather. In theory, preparing for, rather than responding to extreme weather not only lessens impacts, but also reduces the costs involved; lessened impacts demand fewer total resources, whilst sourcing and mobilising people and equipment in advance has cost-saving efficiencies over scrambling resources for rapid response in the aftermath of a disaster.
S2S forecasts increasingly inform decision making across a range of sectors. Here, I discuss how learnings established in the agricultural and humanitarian sectors could be applied to better protect biodiversity from extreme weather, providing both a framework and a theoretical example.