The application of the methodologies to the selected case study areas will enable the testing and refining of the methodologies, and also enhance our understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on habitats and species in these areas. The integrated outcomes of the models will be assessed for each of the case study areas, and the policy and management options relating to conservation objectives considered.
The UK and Irish governments have a range of international and national commitments to the conservation of species, habitats and geological features. However, conservation policy will have to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change. Policy modifications should be founded upon the best possible scientific evidence and understanding of the implications of climate change on natural resources. The Modelling Natural Resource Responses to Climate Change (MONARCH) project hopes to contribute to this process, by providing an important first step in understanding complex interactions between climate change and nature conservation in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. This study aims to evaluate impacts of climate change on a broad range of species (including plants, birds and reptiles) and geological features (including limestone caves and outcrops) in diverse environments.
The spatial distribution of species is partially a function of climatic patterns, with species responding to a complex interaction between climate variables. The spatial variability of biologically important climatic parameters is being analysed with sophisticated geo-statistical techniques, such as Principal Components Analysis (PCA) and clustering algorithms, to develop a climatic zonation for the UK and the Republic of Ireland (Figure 1).
These zones will delimit areas of climatic similarity (Figure 2.) which can be used as a starting point for the impacts modelling. Each of the zones will be characterised by the current distribution of protected conservation sites and, within each zone, a range of dominant, sensitive and threatened species will be identified to study with the impact models.
Terrestrial and Freshwater Environments:
The impacts of climatic change on the geographical distribution of a wide range of species is currently being investigated using the SPECIES ( Spatial Estimator of the Climatic Impacts on the Envelope of Species) model, originally developed within the Regional Climate Change Impact and Response Studies in East Anglia and North West England (REGIS ) project. SPECIES uses a neural network (Figure 3.) to characterise the current distribution of terrestrial species in Europe and to estimate their potential redistribution under various climate change scenarios in the UK and Ireland. Since changing patterns of rainfall are especially critical for lake and river ecosystems, the SPECIES model is also being used to supplement a wetlands model on the impacts of climatic change on freshwater species. Additionally, the project is investigating the likely impacts of climate change on karst geomorphology and how these impacts will affect the ecology of species within designated sites.
Coastal and Marine Environments:
One of the major impacts of climate change on coastal and marine environments will be rising sea levels which may modify shorelines by altering the coastal sediment budget. These changes may have severe impacts on the marine fauna and ecosystems dependent upon balances in the sediment regime. The project will investigate the numerous impacts that may affect key estuarine bird species by synthesising models based on present and future estuary shape (Figure 4.) with important climatic variables. Conceptual models are simultaneously being developed to assess the sensitivity of benthic marine habitats to fluctuations in ocean temperature and other variables. The geomorphologic sensitivity of coastal habitats such as sand dunes, salt marshes, vegetated shingle coasts, seagrass beds and rocky coastal platforms to climate change is also being explored.
The findings from this study will be used to: