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Will climate change turn Quebec’s parks into biodiversity havens?

Protected areas and national parks in Quebec stand to experience tremendous species turnover in the future, researchers predict.

Climate change may transform Quebec’s protected areas and national parks into refuges for biodiversity, a new study suggests.

“…the gain in the number of species of birds, amphibians, trees, and vascular flowering plants could range from 12 to 530 percent.”

Researchers used ecological niche modeling to calculate potential changes in the presence of 529 species in about one third of the protected areas in southern Quebec. Their results suggest that 50 to 80 years from now (between 2071–2100) close to half of the protected regions of southern Quebec may see a species turnover of greater than 80 percent.

Depending on the region, the gain in the number of species of birds, amphibians, trees, and vascular flowering plants could range from 12 to 530 percent. Researchers say this is the first study to examine in such detail the potential effects of climate change on the biodiversity of a large network of northern protected areas.

Further, the researchers believe that the scale and rapidity of the species turnover will result in a necessary reexamination of current conservation paradigms, since it will be impossible to preserve a snapshot of today’s biodiversity in the National Parks.

More specifically, researchers believe that:

  • Rather than trying to preserve current biodiversity in the national parks, a more effective conservation strategy may be to preserve site resilience and a diversity of physical features and conditions.
  • There will potentially be complicated choices ahead for managers of protected areas as increasing numbers of new immigrant species colonize protected sites. If historical communities are deeply modified, managers may need self-sustaining populations of non-native species in some protected areas. Newly arriving species may also have negative impacts on ecosystem structure and function.
  • Assigning conservation status to rare and recently naturalized species may prove a thorny issue, given that a significant portion of northern species are already at risk. But the conservation value of rare new species should be considered in a long-term continental perspective rather than short-term national perspective.
  • It will be important to preserve and restore connectivity of protected areas to allow potential corridors for migration. In this way, species will avoid being trapped for decades or centuries between rapid retreat from the territory’s southern edge and only a slow advance on the northern edge.

The researchers caution that potential species gains should not draw attention away from the potential extinction of local species that may no longer be able to find suitable conditions in the protected areas they are currently in.

The geographical pattern of potential relative species loss suggests that several species could disappear in both the southernmost protected areas of Quebec, and in the higher latitudes, where the extinction of only a few local species can have drastic effects on whole ecological communities.

Researchers from McGill University, l’Université du Québec à Rimouski, le Ministère des Forêts, and de la Faune et des Parcs are coauthors of the paper in Nature. The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment, and the Fight against Climate Change of Quebec (MDDELCC), Ducks Unlimited Canada, Government of Canada, Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks of Quebec, Ouranos Consortium on Regional Climatology and Adaptation to Climate Change, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada funded the work.

Source: McGill University

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