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The Implications of Global Climate Change for Mountain Gorilla Conservation

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Efforts in biodiversity conservation have long embraced the task of reducing the impactsof the stressors imposed by anthropogenic and environmental changes. In the past, moststressors have been either on-going but gradual or incremental, such as pollution ordeforestation, or one-time catastrophic events, such as large oil spills, or a severe drought. Theprevailing conservation principle has been to plan for a static protected area or series of protectedareas, with the goal of preserving important specific habitat types, or biodiversity assemblages.The assumption has been that if properly protected, these ecosystems would remain stable(Hansen et al., 2009). Climate change has created new challenges in biodiversity conservation.While it is already changing ecosystems across the globe, it will continue to do so for decadesand perhaps centuries to come, and at a faster pace than originally anticipated (Hansen et al.,2009). The current pace of change is unprecedented in evolutionary history (Barnosky et al.,2003).Climate change is reshaping how we think about conservation. Even if fully protectedfrom the ongoing threats imposed by human activities, the ecosystems and biota we have beenprotecting will not remain the same. Conservation planners must change the way decisions aremade because aspects of the environment we have always considered to be relatively constant,including weather patterns, water supply, temperature extremes, even biotic communities, will bechanging. This is a difficult endeavor because, not only can we not predict exactly how thingswill change, but we don’t know when they will achieve a new stable state. We can no longerplan for stasis.With these ideas in mind, the African Wildlife Foundation and the International GorillaConservation Programme have partnered with EcoAdapt to initiate the development of anadaptation framework to address climate change in planning in the continuing efforts to conservemountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) in East Africa. With a grant by the John D. andCatherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a series of Climate Camp workshops in the region wereheld and expert research commissioned to produce this initial White Paper. The work focuses onbuilding understanding and assessing the scope for reducing the vulnerability of mountaingorillas to regional and global changes expected to occur as a result of climate change. The goalis to reduce the vulnerability of mountain gorillas to the negative effects of climate change byunderstanding and accommodating its effects on their habitat, food supply, and access to waterresources. The specific task of the White Paper preparation process was to carry out initialmulti-stakeholder assessment of the implications of global climate change for mountain gorillaconservation in the Albertine Rift, and identify key elements of an adaptation framework,including priority adaptation strategies and actions.

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