Ecological mechanisms underpinning climate adaptation services

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Lavorel, Sandra; Colloff, Matt; McIntyre, Sue ORCID ID icon; Doherty, Michael; Murphy, Helen; Metcalfe, Dan; Dunlop, Michael ORCID ID icon; Williams, Dick; Wise, Russ; Williams, Kristen ORCID ID icon


Journal Article

Global Change Biology




Ecosystem services are typically valued for their immediate material or cultural benefits to human wellbeing, assuming regulating and supporting services that sustain such benefits are enduring. Under climate change, with increasingly realized novel shocks and stresses and considerable uncertainty, an additional role for ecosystems underpinning human well being has been identified, namely Ecosystem-based Adaptation. In this context the concept of ‘climate adaptation services’ was recently proposed as a broadening of the ecosystem services framework to assist decision makers in planning for an uncertain future. Building on this framework, we define ‘adaptation services’ more specifically as the properties of ecosystems that provide benefits to people by enabling ecosystems to respond autonomously to novel and uncertain change and variability. Adaptation services include ecological mechanisms that help manage risks, such as diversified cropping systems buffering climate variability for food production, natural buffers against disturbances such as drought and storms, and biological and functional resilience and diversity that support continued ecosystem service provision as ecosystems themselves reassemble and adapt to a changing climate. In this paper we present a generic framework for operationalising the adaptation services concept. The framework comprises four steps to guide the identification of intrinsic ecological mechanisms that facilitate the maintenance and emergence of ecosystem services during periods of change, and so materialise as adaptation services. We explored the application of this framework in the context of four contrasted Australian ecosystems to demonstrate the concept of adaptation services across a broad range of social-ecological contexts. Comparative analyses of the case studies enabled by the operational framework suggest that adaptation services emerging during trajectories of ecological change are supported by a series of common mechanisms: vegetation structural diversity, the role of keystone species or functional groups, response diversity and landscape connectivity, which underpin the persistence of function and the reassembly of ecological communities under severe climate change and variability. Such understanding should guide ecosystem management towards community-based adaptation planning. Implications of the framework and of of findings for research and management are highlighted

Blackwell Publishing

adaptation services, climate change, ecological mechanisms, climate adaptation planning, ecosystem change

Ecological Impacts of Climate Change


Journal article - Refereed


Lavorel, Sandra; Colloff, Matt; McIntyre, Sue; Doherty, Michael; Murphy, Helen; Metcalfe, Dan; Dunlop, Michael; Williams, Dick; Wise, Russ; Williams, Kristen. Ecological mechanisms underpinning climate adaptation services. Global Change Biology. 2015; 21(1):12-31.

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