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Prioritizing climate change adaptation options for iconic marine species


Adaptation options in response to climate impact scenarios for marine mammals and seabirds were developed based on the IPCC vulnerability framework. Under this framework, vulnerability to the physical effects of climate change can be reduced by adaptation options that reduce exposure of individuals, reduce the sensitivity of individuals, and increase the adaptive capacity of individual/species to cope with climate change. We evaluated options in each vulnerability category with three screening tools collectively forming an approach we term sequential adaptation prioritization for species. These tools were designed to evaluate (i) technical aspects (cost-benefit-risk, CBR), (ii) institutional barriers, and (iii) potential social acceptability. The CBR tool identified which adaptation options were high cost and low benefit, might be discarded, and which were high benefit and low cost, might be rapidly implemented (depending on risk). Low cost and low benefit options might not be pursued, while those that are high cost, but high benefit deserve further attention. Even with technical merit, adaptation options can fail because of institutional problems with implementation. The second evaluation tool, based on the conceptual framework on barriers to effective climate adaptation, identifies where barriers may exist, and leads to strategies for overcoming them. Finally, adaptation options may not be acceptable to society at large, or resisted by vocal opponents or groups. The social acceptability tool identifies potentially contested options, which may be useful to managers charged with implementing adaptation options. Social acceptability, as scored by experts, differed from acceptability scored by the public, indicating the need to involve the public in assessing this aspect. Scores from each tool for each scenario can be combined to rank the suite of adaptation options. This approach provides useful tools to assist conservation managers in selecting from a wide range of adaptation strategies; the methodology is also applicable to other conservation sectors.

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This research contributed to the project ‘Human adaptation options to increase resilience of conservation-dependent seabirds and marine mammals impacted by climate change’, which was supported by NCCARF and funding from the FRDC-DCCEE on behalf of the Australian Government. We appreciate the support of many seabird and mammal researchers, managers and policy experts for participation in our workshops and discussions and members of the public for their survey responses. The survey work was approved under CSIRO ethics agreement 087/14. Thank you to Roan Plotz and Ross Daley for their reviews of the draft manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alistair J. Hobday.

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Communicated by Dirk Sven Schmeller.

Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Phases and elements scored in SAPS Stage 3, Barriers to implementation. Each statement is scored from 1–5, where 1 indicates disagreement (low barriers), and 5 indicates agreement (high barriers). Adapted from Moser and Ekstrom (2010).

  • Phase 1: Knowledge

    1. (1)

      Detecting a signal will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

    2. (2)

      Gathering/using information will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

    3. (3)

      Defining the problem will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

  • Phase 2: Planning

    1. (4)

      Developing options will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

    2. (5)

      Managing the process will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

    3. (6)

      Selecting options will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

  • Phase 3: Implementation

    1. (7)

      Implementation will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy

    2. (8)

      Monitoring the outcomes will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

    3. (9)

      Evaluating effectiveness will be a barrier for this adaptation strategy?

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Hobday, A.J., Chambers, L.E. & Arnould, J.P.Y. Prioritizing climate change adaptation options for iconic marine species. Biodivers Conserv 24, 3449–3468 (2015).

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  • Climate change
  • Marine mammals
  • Seabirds
  • Conservation
  • Social license
  • Prioritization