Science Inventory

Managing Climate Change Refugia for Climate Adaptation


Morelli, T., C. Daly, S. Dobrowski, D. Dulen, Joe Ebersole, S. Jackson, J. Lundquist, C. Millar, S. Maher, W. Monahan, K. Nydick, K. Redmond, S. Sawyer, S. Stock, AND S. Beissinger. Managing Climate Change Refugia for Climate Adaptation. PLoS ONE . Public Library of Science, San Francisco, CA, 11(8):e0159909, (2016).


The recognition and protection of climate refugia has been proposed as a potential adaptation strategy that may be useful for protecting biodiversity under a changing climate. Climate refugia are areas that are buffered from climate change effects relative to other areas so as to favor greater persistence of valued social, physical, and ecological resources. In the past, refugia allowed species to persist through prior periods of climate change, even as surrounding regions became unsuitable. Might refugia allow species to persist in the future? And if so, how can we best identify, protect and manage these features? In this paper, we illustrate the utility of the refugia concept with several examples. We provide an overview of climate refugia and discuss how they can fit into the existing framework of federal management. We conclude that climate change refugia, while no panacea, could be an important tool for climate adaptation in the face of impending biodiversity losses.


The concept of refugia has long been studied from theoretical and paleontological perspectives to understand how populations persisted during past periods of unfavorable climate. Recently, researchers have applied the idea to contemporary landscapes to identify climate change refugia, locations that may be unusually buffered from climate change effects so as to increase persistence of valued resources. Here we distinguish between paleoecological and contemporary viewpoints, characterize physical and ecological processes that create and maintain climate change refugia, summarize the process of identifying and mapping them, and delineate how refugia can fit into the existing framework of natural resource management. We also suggest three primary courses of action at these sites: prioritization, protection, and propagation. Although not a panacea, managing climate change refugia can be an important adaptation option for conserving valuable resources in the face of ongoing and future climate change. “In a nutshell” (100 words) • Climate change refugia are defined as areas relatively buffered from contemporary climate change, enabling persistence of valued physical, ecological, and cultural resources. • Refugia can be incorporated as key components of a climate adaptation strategy because their prioritization by management may enable their associated resources to persist locally and eventually spread to future suitable habitat. • Steps for managing climate change refugia: (1) Define the planning purpose and scope; (2) Assess vulnerability to climate change; (3) Identify key features; (4) Map; (5) Prioritize; (6) Implement actions to achieve management goals through prioritization, protection, and propagation; and (7) Monitor and adjust management accordingly.

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 08/10/2016
Record Last Revised: 11/14/2016
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 331173