Planning for resilience: Incorporating scenario and model uncertainty and trade-offs when prioritizing management of climate refugia

Glob Chang Biol. 2022 Apr 14. doi: 10.1111/gcb.16167. Online ahead of print.


Climate change has become the greatest threat to the world's ecosystems. Locating and managing areas that contribute to the survival of key species under climate change is critical for the persistence of ecosystems in the future. Here, we identify 'Climate Priority' sites as coral reefs exposed to relatively low levels of climate stress that will be more likely to persist in the future. We present the first analysis of uncertainty in climate change scenarios and models, along with multiple objectives, in a marine spatial planning exercise and offer a comprehensive approach to incorporating uncertainty and trade-offs in any ecosystem. We first described each site using environmental characteristics that are associated with a higher chance of persistence (larval connectivity, hurricane influence, and acute and chronic temperature conditions in the past and the future). Future temperature increases were assessed using downscaled data under four different climate scenarios (SSP1 2.6, SSP2 4.5, SSP3 7.0 and SSP5 8.5) and 57 model runs. We then prioritized sites for intervention (conservation, improved management or restoration) using robust decision-making approaches that select sites that will have a benign climate under most climate scenarios and models. The modelling work is novel because it solves two important issues. (1) It considers trade-offs between multiple planning objectives explicitly through Pareto analyses and (2) It makes use of all the uncertainty around future climate change. Priority intervention sites identified by the model were verified and refined through local stakeholder engagement including assessments of local threats, ecological conditions and government priorities. The workflow is presented for the Insular Caribbean and Florida, and at the national level for Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Haiti. Our approach allows managers to consider uncertainty and multiple objectives for climate-smart spatial management in coral reefs or any ecosystem across the globe.

Keywords: Caribbean; climate change; coral reefs; robustness; spatial planning; spatial prioritization.