Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Animals, plants need help adapting to climate change

Reuters: Humans must help animals and plants adapt to a warmer world, environmentalists said on Thursday, because it is too expensive to rebuild entire ecosystems and their loss makes people even more vulnerable. Conservation efforts should focus on protecting a variety of the most resilient or adaptable communities, and providing protected corridors of land or sea to allow species to shift habitats if their old range becomes unliveable, they said. "The scale of the problem means we cannot effectively intervene. We have to look to nature to help itself," Rodney Salm, director of tropical marine conservation at The Nature Conservancy, said on the sidelines of U.N. talks in Bali on tackling climate change.

Traditionally, protection efforts often focused on the best-preserved areas of plant or animal life, but these are not always the best positioned to adapt. For example, mangrove swamps at the edge of plains might be overlooked by environmentalists because they are easily accessible to people living nearby and so often in bad condition, while remote outcrops below steep hills can seem better havens of biodiversity, Salm said.

But to survive warming seas, the plants will need the room to retreat slowly inland that flatter areas offer. And experts say humans need mangroves to protect them from storm surges and slow the impact of rising oceans. "Nature is relying on us. In addition to reducing emissions, we need to help natural systems adapt to climate change in order to sustain the processes that make life liveable," said Stephanie Meeks, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy.

"No matter how successful mitigation efforts may be, this planet and its people are already committed to a substantial amount of warming and associated impacts of climate change," she said.

Coral reefs, which nurture fisheries and have already suffered mass die-offs or "bleachings" because of warmer waters, are another system in urgent need of protection, Salm said. Rather than trying to farm heat-resistant or adaptable corals, protection efforts should focus on reefs in water cooled naturally by shade or currents, and those positioned to supply larvae to repopulate damaged areas after a bleaching.

Pacific islanders already suffering the impact of global warming are working on projects to protect the ecosystems that support their traditional way of life, the President of the tiny South Pacific nation of Palau said. Tommy Remengesau said fishermen and farmers already found it hard to judge weather patterns in a country that also lost vast swathes of its coral reefs in a massive global bleaching late last decade. "The resiliency of our biodiverse natural systems will be critical to our ability in our efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change that we all know are coming," he said.

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