Global climate change is confounding species conservation strategies


Correspondence: Bradford A. Hawkins, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA.


Most organisms face similar problems with respect to their conservation in the face of global climate change. Here, we examine probable effects of climate change on the hyperdiverse plant family Orchidaceae. In the 20th century, the major concerns for orchid conservation revolved around unsustainable harvest for the orchid trade and, more importantly, land conversion from natural ecosystems to those unable to support wild orchid populations. Land conversion included logging, fire regimes and forest conversions to agricultural systems. Although those forms of degradation continue, an additional suite of threats has emerged, fueled by global climate change. Global climate change involves more than responses of orchid populations to increases in ambient temperature. Increasing temperature induces secondary effects that can be more significant than simple changes in temperature. Among these new threats are extended and prolonged fire seasons, rising sea levels, increases in cyclonic storms, seasonal climate shifts, changes in orthographic wind dew point and increased drought. The long-term outlook for orchid biodiversity in the wild is dismal, as it is for many animal groups, and we need to start rethinking strategies for conservation in a rapidly changing world.