Biodiversity conservation has classically been targeted toward global “hotspots.” These represent the convergence of a high level of vulnerable species with high levels of threat. Global climate change is a new and universal threat, of uncertain local magnitude, for which adaptive strategies have not yet emerged. Regrettably, it is time to face the reality that, in addition to investing in reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the fate of biodiversity hotspots will depend on successful strategies to adapt habitats to climate change. The threshold questions are: (1) are some hotspots incrementally more threatened when global climate change is taken into consideration and (2) are there potential management adaptations that might reduce the pressure on these ecosystems?
One of the most fundamental ways in which climate change will play itself out in the future will be through changes in hydrology. Thus, adaptations related to watershed management may have the most potential to reduce the threat to biodiversity hot spots. Successful measures may include forest and wetland protection and enhancement as well as changes in operation of installed hydraulic infrastructure. NHI will be applying a new generation of analytical tools to explore adaptation options at a set of “learning laboratories” around the world to develop a knowledge bank of effective management strategies that could reduce the impact of climate change on biodiversity. Some of these “learning laboratories” will be shared water systems that are subject to multi-jurisdictional management, which makes responding to new threats all the more challenging. Since many of the larger river basins in the world define international boundaries or flow from one nation into another, good models for cooperative responses to climate change are urgently needed. We are currently focusing on the shared water system at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. Many other transboundary water systems are candidates.