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Finding a Refuge for Wildlife in Canada’s Changing Climate

Working closely with Y2Y and other groups, Canadian researcher looks to stave off extinctions due to climate change.

February 17, 2016

Canada is already feeling the effects of climate change, and some wildlife species that have evolved over many centuries may have to adapt or perish—an issue that has conservation biologists looking for proactive solutions to avoid potential extinctions.

That urgent concern is the impetus behind important new research from Laura Coristine, a Liber Ero Fellowship scholar, who is developing innovative ways to manage climate change impacts on biodiversity, and helping scientists and planners devise creative tools for integrating conservation policy with these issues—at national, regional and local scales.

“Many species are at risk of extinction if they can’t move, or can’t move fast enough,” says Coristine. “Canada has a unique opportunity to build ecological connectivity, since the federal government is committed to science-based decision making and the establishment of more protected areas, and many of our ecosystems are still intact. We have everything we need to create solutions.”

Coristine is one of five post-doctoral candidates to be awarded with the 2016 Liber Ero Fellowship, a prestigious award that supports researchers working on applied conservation biology problems in Canada. To ensure the greatest possible impact for this research, Coristine will be working closely with several groups, including the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y), Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), as well as the University of Calgary and O2 Planning and Design.

"It’s essential that we consider climate change impacts across large, interconnected ecosystems,” says Y2Y President and Chief Scientist Jodi Hilty. “This research will help identify those areas that could improve prospects for wildlife species as they move and adapt in the face of changing conditions.”

As part of her focus, Coristine will consider major barriers that impede wildlife movement and migrations, such as highways and other developments, since these obstacles will become an even greater concern as the climate changes. She will also identify priority areas where increased land protection, in combination with existing protected areas, could substantially reduce climate-related wildlife extinction.

According to Doug Olson, CEO of O2 Planning and Design, “Canada’s landscapes are changing rapidly in the face of urbanization, infrastructure development, resource extraction and agriculture. The associated negative impacts to biodiversity are complicated by climate change.”

“Climate change and habitat fragmentation are two of the most serious issues facing Canada’s biodiversity,” says Dan Kraus, NCC’s Weston Conservation Scientist. “By mapping ecological linkages that are based on future climate conditions, this project will help inform the Nature Conservancy of Canada’s conservation actions and support the long-term protection of our species and habitats.”

“There’s an urgent need to better incorporate climate change considerations into conservation and land use planning in Canada,” notes Alison Woodley, National Director of CPAWS’ parks program. “Laura Coristine’s research will help inform how this should be done. We look forward to working with her to communicate her research findings, and integrate them into public policy and decision-making.”

Paul Galpern, Assistant Professor of Landscape Ecology at the University of Calgary, adds: "Laura's work will look at where in Canada we need to expand protected areas so that animals—as large as a caribou or as small as a bumble bee—have the habitat they need in a warmer future. Her research will help us evaluate Canada's network of parks and protected areas and its readiness for a changing climate.”

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Media contacts:

  • Laura Coristine, 2016 Liber Ero Fellowship scholar,
    819) 593-5716, laura@coristine.com
  • Jodi Hilty, PhD, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, (403) 678-1137, jodi@y2y.net
  • Paul Galpern, PhD, University of Calgary, (403) 614-9331, paul.galpern@ucalgary.ca