Climate video series: How rapidly can plants and animals adapt?

David Ackerly, a professor of integrative biology, asks whether humans need to assist plants and animals as they adapt to climate change.

In some parts of California, the velocity of climate change — how fast you would have to move to stay within the same climatic conditions in a warming world — approaches five miles per year.

Can plants and animals, used to moving a few feet or a few miles per generation, adapt to this rapid change? And what are the implications for our parks and reserves, which may see so much change that their iconic wildlife and plants — from bears to sequoias — will no longer find them hospitable?

Ecologist David Ackerly, a UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology, has been studying this question for more than a decade, using ecological and phylogenetic data to estimate how fast plants and animals may need to migrate — uphill or farther north — and the implications for conservation.

What he has found leads him to believe that conserving variable landscapes will help with these migrations by capturing a range of climatic conditions in close proximity. Wildlife corridors that connect parks and open space will also make it easier for species to move. In some cases, assisted migration may be necessary, though it brings risks of unexpected consequences. Future success will require novel strategies to conserve our natural heritage.

In a brief talk in May at Cal Future Forum, Ackerly discussed what new approaches will be necessary to protect the diversity of California’s flora and fauna as they adapt to a changing climate.

View all Cal Future Forum videos