Assistant Professor McGill University, Quebec, Canada
Rapid environmental change caused by humans is leading to the redistribution of biodiversity around the world as species attempt to track climate change by shifting their geographic ranges. While climate-driven range-shifts may prove key for the survival of some species, they pose a significant challenge for area-based conservation efforts, as the land species rely on today may not serve them into the future due to climate change. To enable species’ persistence into the future, and protect existing biodiversity, we need to establish protected areas that serve both current and future species distributions. Here, we use species distribution models to estimate both the current and future distributions of all vascular plant, vertebrate, and butterfly species in Canada. By focusing on the areas of overlap between current and future species ranges, we quantify the amount of biodiversity currently protected by Canada’s existing network of land for conservation and identify specific areas that should be protected to prioritize biodiversity persistence under various climate change scenarios.
The results from our analysis show that already established land for conservation does not adequately protect biodiversity into the future. Specifically, current protected areas have relatively low biodiversity coverage across all clades, ranging from 13% for Amphibians, to 14% for Reptiles, Birds, and Butterflies, and 16% for Plants and Mammals. Fortunately, our analysis also suggests that expanding Canada’s protected areas, even by only a small amount, could result in large biodiversity gains. Across clades, if Canada’s existing network of protected areas was expanded by only 2%, it could double the amount of protected biodiversity. We show that if Canada achieves its 2030 goal of 30% of land dedicated to conservation, over 50% of all Canadian biodiversity could reside in protected areas, potentially facilitating biodiversity persistence for the majority of Canadian species. Finally, we also identify specific ecoregions, such as the Central Pacific Coastal Forests and surprisingly the High Arctic Tundra, where establishing future protected areas would disproportionately benefit biodiversity conservation. This work offers researchers and policy makers an evidence-based approach to area-based conservation that considers the future impacts of climate change, enabling proactive conservation decisions to prevent widespread biodiversity loss.