Microclimate and conservation

The problem:

Most assessments of threat to biodiversity use climate data measured or derived at resolutions of tens to hundreds of kilometres. In contrast, most organisms experience and respond to climate at resolutions of millimetres to metres. Fine-resolution spatial differences in temperature can be as large as inter-continental differences at coarser resolutions. Accounting for these scale-discrepancies fundamentally alters our understanding of climate change impacts1-2.

Our solution:

We use fine-scale data generated by our microclimate models and large-scale field experiments to understand how species are responding to climate change. Our work has shown that rates of warming vary at fine-scale3, that the existence of microclimate buffers species against the adverse impacts of climate change4-6, and that microclimate manipulation can be used as a form of in-situ conservation management7.

Coarse-resolution bioclimate models predict catastrophic consequences for life on earth. Up to one third of species are expected to be committed to extinction by 2050 because of climate change.

Microrefugia may provide critically important safe-havens, enabling species to survive unfavourable regional climate change.

Climate change is already a major threat to a wide range of species and habitats and is predicted to become one of the greatest threats to biodiversity over this century.

Conventional approaches for adapting nature conservation to climate change focus on accommodating or assisting range shifts. However, competing land-use hinders our ability to devote new areas to nature conservation and translocation is impractical for numerous species.

We have shown that microclimates can be manipulated through habitat management to help species cope with climate change.

Our work has featured widely in the media.

Subtropical Cornwall. READ MORE

Shady countryside spots could help UK animals and plants survive global warming. READ MORE

Extinction risk from climate change. READ MORE

How climate change Is whittling down the world’s species. READ MORE

Key references

1Suggitt AJ, Platts PJ, Barata IM, Bennie JJ, Burgess MD, Bystriakova N, Duffield S, Ewing SR, Gillingham PK, Harper AB, Hartley AJ, Hemming DL, Maclean IMD, Maltby K, Marshall HH, Morecroft MD, Pearce‐Higgins JW, Pearce‐Kelly P, Phillimore AB, Price JT, Pyke A, Stewart JE, Warren R, Hill JK (2017) Conducting robust ecological analyses with climate data. Oikos 126.11: 1533-1541.

2Bramer I, Anderson BJ, Bennie J, Bladon AJ, De Frenne P, Hemming D, Hill RA, Kearney MR, Körner C, Korstjens AH, Lenoir J, Maclean IMD, Marsh CD, Morecroft MD, Ohlemüller R, Slater HD, Suggitt AJ, Zellweger F, Gillingham PK (2018) Advances in Monitoring and Modelling Climate at Ecologically Relevant Scales. Advances in Ecological Research 58: 101-161.

3Maclean IMD, Suggitt AJ, Wilson RJ, Duffy JP, Bennie JJ (2017) Fine‐scale climate change: modelling spatial variation in biologically meaningful rates of warming. Global change biology 23.1: 256-268.

4Suggitt AJ, Wilson RJ, Isaac NJB, Beale CM, Auffret AG, August T, Bennie JJ, Crick HQP, Duffield S, Fox R, Hopkins JJ, Macgregor NA, Morecroft MD, Walker KJ Maclean IMD (2018) Extinction risk from climate change is reduced by microclimatic buffering. Nature Climate Change 8: 713-717.

5Maclean IMD, Hopkins JJ, Bennie J, Lawson CR, Wilson RJ (2015) Microclimates buffer the responses of plant communities to climate change. Global Ecology and Biogeography 24.11: 1340-1350.

6Suggitt AJ, Wilson RJ, August TA, Fox R, Isaac NJB, Macgregor NA, Morecroft MD, Maclean IMD (2015) Microclimate affects landscape level persistence in the British Lepidoptera. Journal of Insect Conservation 19.2: 237-253.