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CASC scientists and partners offer guidance for how wildlife disease assessments can be included in early climate adaptation planning.

Wildlife disease management and climate adaptation practices have similar goals of maintaining healthy wildlife populations and ecosystems, but disease considerations are generally an afterthought to climate adaptation actions. This is especially true when disease is not the primary concern for the ecosystem or species being targeted for action. 

A new publication co-authored by scientists from the Northwest, Midwest, and National CASCs offers guidance on how wildlife disease assessments can be included early on in climate adaptation planning, rather than as an afterthought, to improve adaptation outcomes.  

The authors present a five-step process to achieve “disease-smart” climate adaptation, and four case studies to demonstrate the unintended consequences of climate adaptation actions on wildlife disease dynamics. For example, ensuring habitat connectivity is a common adaptation strategy because it facilitates movement and gene flow for a species, but in doing so, it can also create pathways for disease transmission. In the western United State, prairie dogs transmit a flea-borne bacterium that causes close to 100% mortality among colonies and to the critically endangered black-footed ferret that feeds on prairie dog colonies. This illustrates the decision trade-off that may exist between creating connected habitat patches that ensures gene flow for prairie dog populations vs. maintaining natural barriers to reduce disease transmission to vulnerable species like the black-footed ferret. The authors also discuss disease risk related to other common climate adaptation practices, including refugia protection and assisted migration, and provide a process practitioners can follow for disease-smart climate adaptation planning. 

This work may help practitioners assess disease-risk early in the decision-making process to better anticipate and avoid potential unintended consequences of climate adaptation actions.  

This publication on disease-smart climate adaptation planning stems from conversations had at a 2020 workshop on Climate Change & Wildlife, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center and Climate Adaptation Science Centers.  

The full paper title is “Disease‐smart climate adaptation for wildlife management and conservation” and was published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.  

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