Climate change can drive species out of protected areas thus creating new challenges for conservation planning that typically assumes species distributions to remain static once they are protected. Researchers in the lab have been at the forefront of spatial conservation planning, particularly by providing assessments of climate change effects on protected areas (e.g., here, here, and here) and by developing new methods to identify priority areas under climate change (e.g., here, here, and here). Our work, has even make it into major policy reports on biodiversity conservation and climate change.

In a recent paper in Method in Ecology and Evolution, researchers in the lab formalised different alternative conceptualisations for the climate change problem in conservation planning and developed a set of tools that enable optimising the scheduling of conservation investments under climate changes. “The objective is to select the optimal set of areas that enables persistence of all species of interest given budget restrictions or competition with other socioeconomic activities”, says Diogo Alagador who leads the study.

“A big problem in conservation planning is that, as time goes by, species are expected to move to adapt to climate change and conserving species in such dynamic environment implies setting aside extremely large areas for conservation. Most likely, society will not be prepared for setting aside the amount of area required to conserve all valued biodiversity through time because of competing land uses and economic pressures. The alternative is to accept the principle that area priorities are dynamic as species distributions are, leading to a process of dynamic prioritization of conservation areas with selection and de-selection of areas needs change”, explains Miguel Araújo.

Co-author Jorge Orestes Cerdeira, at the New University of Lisbon, stresses that “areas that dynamic areas are selected and de-selected in some moment in time can actually form a sort of land bank that enables financial resources to be earned during the process of conserving biodiversity”.

In recent years, the scientific literature dealing with spatial conservation priorities has experienced a substantial increase and “the innovation of our study is that it introduces a comprehensive set of spatial conservation prioritisation tools that explicitly handle ecological and socio-​economic dynamics”, says Diogo Alagador.