Conserving the Stage: Solutions for Climate & Biodiversity
Did you know Northwest Arkansas is home to climate-resilient landscapes that have been identified by scientists as critical for preserving biodiversity into the future?
Science has shown that our greater Ozarks region is important for species movement as their habitats shift in response to climate change.
Climate-resilient landscapes are those that contain a diversity of geology, elevations, and landforms. For example, our combination of lower elevation floodplains, grasslands, sandstone valleys and rocky slopes, along with the higher elevation limestone bluffs and mountain ridges provide the type of “landform complexity” shown to support a greater level of biodiversity.
This is because as living organisms adapt to changing climate conditions, they rely on the various “microclimates” or “micro-habitats” found in these more complex landscapes. Microclimates offer different local temperature and moisture conditions into which species can move to survive.
The Eastern Division Conservation Science Team of The Nature Conservancy (based in the eastern US) developed new methods for analyzing and mapping “species-relevant microclimates and highly connected lands in order to identify places where species are most likely to persist.”
…In other words, they created a national mapping tool that identifies the places in the US that are most important to protect because they provide the best chance for biodiversity to survive into the future. Northwest Arkansas is on the map.
Our area is part of the greater Ozark ecoregion through which species are anticipated to shift, moving from the increasingly dry and arid southwest through and into the Appalachians to the north and east. This “regional flow” of species is spectacularly animated here.
The information and tools provided by the climate mapping study informed the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust’s own Strategic Land Protection Plan which provides the regions first landscape-scale conservation strategy.
Landform complexity is critical, and so are connected landscapes. Maintaining connected natural areas (areas that are not yet fragmented by development) allows species to move into and through, utilizing these critical landscapes as their habitats continue to be rearranged by climate change.
Looking at these two concepts together, the protection of 1) complex and 2) connected landscapes is the cornerstone of an approach to land protection called “conserving the stage”.
Conserving the stage?...
Conserving the stage is a conservation approach that calls us to not only focus on threatened or endangered species where they currently remain (which is also important), but to protect the connected, climate-resilient landscapes through which they will need to move over time. The stage.
Think of a theatre stage. The stage remains in place (the landscape) while across the stage various actors (the species) come and go over time. As the science team at Eastern Division of the Nature Conservancy points out, “rather than trying to protect diversity one species at a time, the key is to protect the different stages upon which the drama of nature unfolds.”
As we face urgent challenges to protect our living planet, one thing is for sure - nature is good for the climate. Land conservation is a natural and cost-effective climate solution. Protecting our forests and other ecosystems helps stop the breakdown of our climate and protect biodiversity while we continue to strive to lower our emissions and lesson our carbon footprints.
It’s a win-win. Let’s #saveland.