Publishing trends on climate change vulnerability in the conservation literature reveal a predominant focus on direct impacts and long time-scales

Authors

  • Sarah Chapman,

    1. Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
    2. School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
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  • Karen Mustin,

    1. Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
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  • Anna R. Renwick,

    1. Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
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  • Daniel B. Segan,

    1. Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
    2. Global Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA
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  • David G. Hole,

    1. Betty and Gordon Moore Centre for Science and Oceans, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA
    2. School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, University of Durham, Durham, UK
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  • Richard G. Pearson,

    1. Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research, University College London, London, UK
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  • James E. M. Watson

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, School of Biological Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
    2. School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, Australia
    3. Global Conservation Program, Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY, USA
    • Correspondence: James E. M. Watson, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld 4072, Australia.

      E-mail: james.jameswatson@gmail.com

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Abstract

Over the past twelve years the number of papers that explore the impacts of climate change on biodiversity in the conservation literature has grown on average by 20% annually. By categorising these papers on their primary research questions, we show that the vast majority of these articles (88.6%) focus only on those impacts that arise directly as a result of climate change, ignoring the potentially significant indirect threats that arise from human adaptation responses. This pattern has remained fairly consistent throughout the review period (2000–2012), with a trend towards more articles considering both direct and indirect impacts towards the end of the period. We also find a bias in the time-frames considered by published articles that project future impacts of climate change on biodiversity, with more than three-quarters (77.9%) of papers only considering impacts after 2031, and almost half (49.1%) only considering impacts after 2051. This focus on long-term, direct impacts creates a mismatch, not only with the life-cycles of species and timescales of many ecological processes, but also with most management and policy timelines and the short-term nature of human decision making processes. The focus on studying the long-term, direct impacts of climate change on biodiversity is likely a function of the lack of availability of climate projections on shorter temporal scales; a perception that short-term impacts will be minor; and, insufficient integration with the social and political sciences. While the direct impact of changes in mean climatic conditions will significantly change the biosphere by the end of the century, near term changes in seasonality and extreme events coupled with human adaptation responses are likely to have substantial impacts much sooner, threatening the survival of species and ecosystems. It is therefore essential that we balance our research efforts to facilitate a better understanding of these more imminent threats.

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