Conserving – and connecting – nature’s stage

Conserving Nature’s Stage is a new concept that encapsulates efforts to focus conservation attention on the diversity of physical environments found on Earth. If conserved, this “geodiversity” sets the stage for the actors – the diversity of life that exists on and in it. Conserving Nature’s Stage shifts focus away from the details of the individual actors – ten million or so of them that can never receive the individual attention they need – and toward the broader template they need to persist under current and changing environments. A new series of eight articles in Conservation Biology marks the basis, progress, and future of this focus, highlighting how it can facilitate adaptation to a changing climate and world.

I focus my Digest on one aspect of the Special Section: how connectivity is a part of, or needs attention in addition to, Nature’s Stage. From reading the compilation, I draw two overarching conclusions: first, the outcome of Conserving Nature’s Stage through its own process will often reconnect landscapes. Second, where Conserving Nature’s Stage fails to reconnect landscapes, an additional layer of conservation is needed, or the stage will ultimately fail to support its actors.

The scientific support for Conserving Nature’s Stage is helpfully and thoroughly established in an article by Lawler and colleagues. This article covers a century of history in ecological research that contains elements of the underpinnings of this approach, and clearly defines the core basis of the theory, the physical aspects of the environment – topography, latitude, climate – that determine the distribution of species. As climate changes, a diversity of physical environments is needed to serve the diversity of life now and into the future. Importantly, those physical environments, if connected, will more easily permit species ranges to track changing climates that will suit them.

Conserving Nature’s Stage can translate from science to policy, and an article by Comer and colleagues details how efforts to do so are positioned to integrate this emerging strategy. A focus on a variety of physical factors may help to integrate across the diversity of life, to assess ecological responses to a changing world, and to pinpoint gaps in the conservation infrastructure. Building from earlier recommendations that focused on riparian habitats and topographic gradients, Comer and colleagues highlight how landscapes protecting diverse physical environments can be integrated with landscape connectivity to promote resilience in the face of a changing climate.

It was helpful for me to read some tangible applications of conservation of a diversity of physical environments in conservation settings; and a paper by Anderson and colleagues summarizes eight cases studies that do just that.  For example, one study in the desert southwest (Case 2) combined traditional corridors for species with corridors that were intended to connect a variety of climates to address current and future needs across a diversity of species. Another in the US northeast and Maritime Canada (Case 3) identified areas of physical landscape diversity and connectedness, creating areas that will allow ranges to shift in response to changing climates. These examples provide a path forward to maintain landscape connectivity in a changing world, and to allow the diversity of life to adapt to new physical environments.

My all-too-short summary highlights how conservation of diversity of physical environments simultaneously conserves, or can be adapted to additionally focus conservation efforts, on landscape connectivity. Through this lens, Conserving Nature’s Stage provides a robust conservation model in a changing world. More detail can be found in these (and five other) articles in the series. And, particularly as my Digest covers only a tiny part of the near-100 page series, comments are welcome on how this relates to connectivity and/or other aspects of biodiversity conservation.


Beier, P., M. L. Hunter, and M. Anderson. 2015. Special Section: Conserving Nature’s Stage. Conservation Biology 29:613-617.

Anderson, M. G., P. J. Comer, P. Beier, J. J. Lawler, C. A. Schloss, S. Buttrick, C. M. Albano, and D. P. Faith. 2015. Case studies of conservation plans that incorporate geodiversity. Conservation Biology 29: 680-691.

Comer, P. J., R. L. Pressey, M. L. Hunter, C. A. Schloss, S. C. Buttrick, N. E. Heller, J. M. Tirpak, D. P. Faith, M. S. Cross, and M. L. Shaffer. 2015. Incorporating geodiversity into conservation decisions. Conservation Biology 29:692-701.

Lawler, J. J., D. D. Ackerly, C. M. Albano, M. G. Anderson, S. Z. Dobrowski, J. L. Gill, N.E. Heller, R. L. Pressey, E. W. Sanderson, and S. B. Weiss. 2015. The theory behind, and the challenges of, conserving nature’s stage in a time of rapid change. Conservation Biology 29:618-629.

2016-10-14T10:10:35+00:00 August 10th, 2015|

About the Author:

Nick Haddad
Dr. Nick Haddad is Senior Terrestrial Ecologist in the Department of Integrative Biology at Michigan State University and Kellogg Biological Station. For more than 20 years, he has been studying how plants and animals use corridors. He has worked in the largest and longest-running corridor experiment, the Savannah River Site Corridor Project, and he has studied natural corridors used by rare butterflies.