Get access
Advertisement

Predicting how adaptation to climate change could affect ecological conservation: secondary impacts of shifting agricultural suitability

Authors

  • Bethany A. Bradley,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA
      Bethany A. Bradley, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.
      E-mail: bbradley@eco.umass.edu
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Lyndon D. Estes,

    1. Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • David G. Hole,

    1. Science and Knowledge Division, Conservation International, Arlington, VA 22202, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Stephen Holness,

    1. Park Planning and Development Conservation Services, South African National Parks, Humewood 6013, South Africa
    2. Center for African Conservation Ecology, Department of Zoology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth 6013, South Africa
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Michael Oppenheimer,

    1. Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
    2. Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Will R. Turner,

    1. Science and Knowledge Division, Conservation International, Arlington, VA 22202, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Hein Beukes,

    1. Institute for Soil, Climate, and Water, Agricultural Research Council, Stellenbosch 2599, South Africa
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Roland E. Schulze,

    1. School of Bioresources Engineering and Environmental Hydrology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg 3209, South Africa
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Mark A. Tadross,

    1. Climate Systems Analysis Group, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
    Search for more papers by this author
  • David S. Wilcove

    1. Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
    2. Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Bethany A. Bradley, Department of Environmental Conservation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003, USA.
E-mail: bbradley@eco.umass.edu

Abstract

Aim:  Ecosystems face numerous well-documented threats from climate change. The well-being of people also is threatened by climate change, most prominently by reduced food security. Human adaptation to food scarcity, including shifting agricultural zones, will create new threats for natural ecosystems. We investigated how shifts in crop suitability because of climate change may overlap currently protected areas (PAs) and priority sites for PA expansion in South Africa. Predicting the locations of suitable climate conditions for crop growth will assist conservationists and decision-makers in planning for climate change.

Location:  South Africa.

Methods:  We modelled climatic suitability in 2055 for maize and wheat cultivation, two extensively planted, staple crops, and overlaid projected changes with PAs and PA expansion priorities.

Results:  Changes in winter climate could make an additional 2 million ha of land suitable for wheat cultivation, while changes in summer climate could expand maize suitability by up to 3.5 million ha. Conversely, 3 million ha of lands currently suitable for wheat production are predicted to become climatically unsuitable, along with 13 million ha for maize. At least 328 of 834 (39%) PAs are projected to be affected by altered wheat or maize suitability in their buffer zones.

Main conclusions:  Reduced crop suitability and food scarcity in subsistence areas may lead to the exploitation of PAs for food and fuel. However, if reduced crop suitability leads to agricultural abandonment, this may afford opportunities for ecological restoration. Expanded crop suitability in PA buffer zones could lead to additional isolation of PAs if portions of newly suitable land are converted to agriculture. These results suggest that altered crop suitability will be widespread throughout South Africa, including within and around lands identified as conservation priorities. Assessing how climate change will affect crop suitability near PAs is a first step towards proactively identifying potential conflicts between human adaptation and conservation planning.

Get access to the full text of this article

Ancillary