Driving planetary adaptation using natural laboratories for climate change

Gretta T Pecl (1,2), Elsa Gärtner (1), Stewart Frusher (1,2), Marcus Haward (1,2), Alistair Hobday (2,3), Eriko Hoshino (1,2), Sarah Jennings (2), Elvira Poloczanska (3) , Warwick Sauer (4), Jon Sumby (1) , Cecilia Villanueva (1,2),, Reg Watson (1,2) , Ingrid van Putten (2,3)

(1) Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Private Bag 49, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 7001
(2) Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 7001
(3) Climate Adaptation Flagship, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, 7001
(4) Rhodes University, South Africa

Adaptation planning for the impacts of climate change requires knowledge of the risks to natural, managed and human systems. However, assessment of risks (including opportunities) from anthropogenic climate change is hampered by a lack of historical data, the inherent variability of natural systems and multiple drivers of changes. Here, we identify our current capacity to use the ocean’s ‘natural laboratories’ – rapidly warming ocean regions – (Hobday and Pecl 2014) – for assessing climate change risks to inform longer-term adaptation strategies for sustainable natural resource use and management. One of the key climate challenges for our natural systems is the redistribution of species, a process generally occurring faster in these faster warming ocean regions. Using metrics derived from across ecological, social, economic and governance domains, we present a global ‘Marine Adaptation Index’ of our observational capacity for detection of climate change impacts, and our ability to act, learn, and moreover, to communicate and share advances to the broader community. We find substantial disparity among ‘natural laboratories’ in the potential to detect biological impacts of climate change, and where change can be detected, in the proficiency for sharing new knowledge with the rest of the warming world. The unprecedented pace of change in natural systems, coupled with escalating demands for natural resources, makes the adaptation challenge urgent, requiring rapid progression of knowledge and effective research networks for facilitating shared learning. Harnessing information from ‘natural laboratories’ represents a significant opportunity for humanity to be forewarned of the impending consequences of climate change on our natural systems.