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Climate change - landscape change: where is Landscape Ecology in the Climate Change Debate?

Predictions of climate change suggest major changes in global temperature, rainfall, frequency and timing of extreme weather, varying considerably across space and time. Although the predicted changes are still highly uncertain, particularly at the regional level, we anticipate profound effects on the functioning of landscapes. Climate change will significantly affect all types of land use and ecosystem services, as well as the quality of life for societies.

Science played a key role in putting climate change on the world agenda, and should now be preparing to offer solutions for dealing with impacts. One strategy is reducing the emissions of greenhouse gasses; land use change may contribute to that by, for example, fostering carbon sequestration. The other strategy is adapting the use and structure of landscapes to changing climate conditions. One example of adaptation is development and maintenance of migration corridors. With adaptation it is recognized that the world climate is fundamentally changing and that this will continue to do so for decades, even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced substantially. Building a knowledge basis for making landscapes resilient to the increased dynamics caused by climate change is a great challenge to landscape ecology in gaining credibility as a problem-oriented science.

The primary goal of landscape ecology is to understand the interaction of landscape patterns and processes, and to make this knowledge available in the societal learning process of developing landscapes in a sustainable way. One of the strengths of landscape ecology is to deal with changes in pattern/process relationships that affect multiple ecosystem services. Therefore, it provides a framework to understand how to manage and adapt landscapes to maintain multiple ecosystem services. Most of pattern-process interactions will be affected by changing climate patterns. Surprisingly, climate change has received little attention from landscape ecologists. The 2007 IALE World Congress in Wageningen brought two symposia on climate change: one on the effects on wetland systems, and one on effects on species in fragmented ecosystems, which included a few papers on adaptation strategies. Only four papers with climate change in the title were published in the journal Landscape Ecology (1991, 1993, 2004, 2007), and only two in Landscape and Urban Planning (2007, 2008), suggesting that the recent rise in attention has not been reflected in landscape ecology research.

Are we missing the boat? Why is it that our science does not contribute to building a knowledge base to help solve this immense problem?

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Volume 35 no. 4, December 2017