Adaptation to climate change is often necessary to continue living in one place. For plants, animals, and other organisms in nature, evolutionary adaptation occurs when natural selection favors individuals or populations that survive longer and reproduce more under the new conditions compared to other individuals or populations. Not all populations can adapt in response to climate change, though—for example, if there is not enough genetic variation among individuals or populations, or if the environment changes too quickly. If those populations cannot adapt, then they either have to move or go extinct.
People can intentionally adapt their way of life in response to climate change. Adaptation in this sense does not involve evolution, natural selection, or genes, but rather planning and decision making. National park staff are increasingly adapting to climate change impacts. Replacing fixed-in-place interpretive display boards by a glacier with ones that can be moved as the glacier retreats, restoring natural beaches and removing barriers to sand movement, and installing water-free toilets in anticipation of increased drought are all examples of adapting to climate change.
The aim of adaptation is to build resiliency in the parks—finding ways to help ecosystems and resources withstand and recover from climate change. Different kinds of resources and systems require different approaches to adaptation.
- availability of climate refugia (habitats that persist as climate changes)
- landscape corridors that allow plants and animals to move to more suitable locations
- healthy populations with sufficient genetic diversity to adapt
- blocks of natural landscape large enough to be resilient to large-scale disturbances and long-term changes
- lack of additional threats and stressors