Anthropocene refugia: integrating history and predictive modelling to assess the space available for biodiversity in a human-dominated world

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During periods of strong environmental change, some areas may serve as refugia, where components of biodiversity can find protection, persist and potentially expand from should conditions again become favourable. The refugia concept has previously been used in the context of climatic change, to describe climatically stable areas in which taxa survived past Quaternary glacial-interglacial oscillations, or where they might persist in the future under anthropogenic climate change. However, with the recognition that Earth has entered the Anthropocene, an era in which human activities are the dominant driving force on ecosystems, it is critical to also consider human pressures on the environment as factors limiting species distributions. Here, we present a novel concept, Anthropocene refugia, to refer to areas that provide spatial and temporal protection from human activities and that will remain suitable for a given taxonomic unit in the long-term. It integrates a deep-time perspective on species biogeography that provides information on the natural rather than current-day relictual distribution of species, with spatial information on modern and future anthropogenic threats. We define the concept and propose a methodology to effectively identify and map realized and potential current and future refugia, using examples for two megafaunal species as a proof of concept. We argue that identifying Anthropocene refugia will improve biodiversity conservation and restoration by allowing better prediction of key areas for conservation and potential for re-expansions today and in the future. More generally, it forms a new conceptual framework to assess and manage the impact of anthropogenic activities on past, current and future patterns of species distributions. This article is part of a discussion meeting issue 'The past is a foreign country: how much can the fossil record actually inform conservation?'

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190219
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume374
ISSN0962-8436
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

    Research areas

  • Anthropocene, ecosystem restoration, refuge, rewilding, shifting baseline, species distribution modelling

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