Minimizing extinctions in a changing climate: New study

September 19, 2011

More species could be saved from extinction under climate change thanks to a new model scientists have developed to guide allocation of conservation funding.

The international team, led by Dr Brendan Wintle of the University of Melbourne and the ARC Centre of Excellence for , is the first to develop a pioneering decision-support model that incorporates both ecological and economic information to guide conservation investment in the face of climate change. The work is published today [Monday 19 September] in the journal Nature Climate Change.

"The best part about this model is that it can be applied to a range of environments, including many of Australia's native ecosystems, to suggest how to allocate funding," Dr Wintle said.

Although scientists knew that high were predicted to increase under climate change, there was little advice to guide how money could be best spent to minimise extinctions.

"Our analysis supports the existing evidence that will substantially accelerate extinction rates. So the first step is that we urgently need to limit global warming to avoid a ."

"Given that we are probably committed to a two degree warming by 2050, we need to develop effective strategies for minimizing the number of species that go extinct as a result.

"We only have a limited amount of money to spend on managing biodiversity, so the question becomes, how do we most effectively allocate these funds?

"We needed a systematic approach to guide conservation investment to minimize extinctions and avoid wasting money. An advantage of our approach is that it makes the costs of a plan explicit, reducing the opportunity for politicization of decisions."

The scientists combined ecological predictions with an economic decision framework to prioritize conservation activities, and tested the model on one of world's most biodiverse and highly threatened ecosystems; the South African fynbos.

"An interesting result of our analysis is that the optimal allocation of money depends strongly on the yearly budget. For example if budgets were small then the whole budget would be dedicated to fire-fighting capacity. However, if more money were available, investment would be directed toward avoiding habitat loss due to clearing and weed invasion," Dr Wintle said.

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