Climate change poses a particular threat to species with fragmented distributions and little or no capacity to migrate. Assisted colonization, moving species into regions where they have not previously occurred, aims to establish populations where they are expected to survive as climatic envelopes shift. However, adaptation to the source environment may affect whether species successfully establish in new regions. Assisted colonization has spurred debate among conservation biologists and ecologists over whether the potential benefits to the threatened species outweigh the potential disruption to recipient communities. In our opinion, the debate has been distracted by controversial examples, rather than cases where assisted colonization may be a viable strategy. We present a strategic plan for the assisted migration of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), an endemic New Zealand reptile. The plan includes use of extant populations as reference points for comparisons with assisted-colonization populations with respect to demography, phenotypic plasticity, and phenology; optimization of genetic variation; research to fill knowledge gaps; consideration of host and recipient communities; and inclusion of stakeholders in the planning stage. When strategically planned and monitored, assisted colonization could meet conservation and research goals and ultimately result in the establishment of long-term sustainable populations capable of persisting during rapid changes in climate.
Miller, K., Miller, H., Moore, J., Mitchell, N., Cree, A., Allendorf, F., Sarre, S., Keall, S., & Nelson, N. (2012). Securing the Demographic and Genetic Future of Tuatara through Assisted Colonization. Conservation Biology, 26(5), 790-798. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01902.x