A landscape vulnerability framework for identifying integrated conservation and adaptation pathways to climate change: the case of Madagascar’s spiny forest



Integrated conservation decision-making frameworks that help to design or adjust practices that are cognisant of environmental change and adaptation are urgently needed.


We demonstrate how a landscape vulnerability framework combining sensitivity, adaptive capacity, and exposure to climate change framed along two main axes of concern can help to identify potential strategies for conservation and adaptation decision-making, using a landscape in Madagascar’s spiny forest as a case-study.


To apply such a vulnerability landscape assessment, we inferred the sensitivity of habitats using temporal and spatial botanical data-sets, including the use of fossil pollen data and vegetation surveys. For understanding adaptive capacity, we analysed existing spatial maps (reflecting anthropogenic stressors) showing the degree of habitat connectivity, matrix quality and protected area coverage for the different habitats in the landscape. Lastly, for understanding exposures, we used climate change predictions in Madagascar, together with a digital elevation model.


The fossil pollen data showed how sensitive arid-adapted species were to past climate changes, especially the conditions between 1000 and 500 cal yr BP. The spatial analysis then helped locate habitats on the two-dimensional axes of concern integrating sensitivity, adaptive capacity and climate change exposure. By identifying resistant, resilient, susceptible, and sensitive habitats to climate change in the landscape under study, we identify very different approaches to integrate conservation and adaptation strategies in contrasting habitats.


This framework, illustrated through a case study, provides easy guidance for identifying potential integrated conservation and adaptation strategies, taking into account aspects of climate vulnerability and conservation capacity.

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The funding for the palaeoecological study is derived from an Australian Research Council Discovery Grant held by Haberle (DP 0986991). Fieldwork for the palaeoecological study was conducted in collaboration with Prof. Atholl Anderson and Dr Geoff Clark with staff from the Museum in Antananarivo (Chantal Radimilahy and Ramilison Lalaina). Special thanks to Aurelie Shapiro for her help with the spatial layers.

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Correspondence to Malika Virah-Sawmy.

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Virah-Sawmy, M., Gillson, L., Gardner, C.J. et al. A landscape vulnerability framework for identifying integrated conservation and adaptation pathways to climate change: the case of Madagascar’s spiny forest. Landscape Ecol 31, 637–654 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-015-0269-2

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  • Adaptive capacity
  • Climate change conservation strategies
  • Landscape history
  • Plant extinction
  • Resilience
  • Sensitivity