• Open Access

Treatment of uncertainty in conservation under climate change


Heini Kujala, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, P.O. Box 6500014, Helsinki, Finland. Tel: +358 9 191 57922; fax: +358 9 191 57694. E-mail: heini.kujala@helsinki.fi, heini.kujala@unimelb.edu.au


Climate change is an important threat to biodiversity globally, but there are major uncertainties associated with its magnitude and ecological consequences. Here, we investigate how three major classes of uncertainty, linguistic uncertainty, epistemic uncertainty (uncertainty about facts), and human decision uncertainty, have been accounted for in scientific literature about climate change. Some sources of uncertainty are poorly characterized and epistemic uncertainty is much more commonly treated than linguistic or human decision uncertainty. Furthermore, we show that linguistic and human decision uncertainties are relatively better treated in the literature on sociopolitics or economics than in natural sciences, which often overlook communication between stakeholders and socioeconomic consequences. As uncertainty can significantly influence implementation of conservation, we discuss uncertainties associated with some commonly proposed conservation adaptation actions to mitigate climate change. There may be major differences between strategies, with implications on how they should be viewed in conservation planning. We conclude that evaluating conservation strategies in terms of different types of uncertainty will facilitate communication between disciplines and stakeholders. While accounting for uncertainties in a quantitative manner is difficult and data demanding, even qualitative appreciation about the uncertainties inherent in conservation strategies can facilitate and improve decision making.