Wendy Foden

KEYNOTE SPEAKER: DR WENDY FODEN – Do the climate change species shuffle: conservation managers as dance teachers

(6 November 2017)

As the prospect of limiting this century’s global warming to 1.5°C dwindles, climate change impacts and the need to adapt to them have become a reality for every conservation planner and manager. The 0.9°C of average warming already experienced worldwide translates to much greater warming in Southern Africa, and the resulting impacts provide important lessons about how our species and ecosystems are likely to respond. Species are shifting their ranges to track their required climates and ecosystems are reshuffling as some species leave and others arrive. What do these and other species and ecosystem changes mean for conservation planners and managers?

This talk will provide an update on the progress of international climate change policies and the implications of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. I will describe a selection of recent climate change impacts, including the first known climate change driven extinction of a mammal, the Bramble Cay Melomys (Australia). Implications of these for our understanding of climate change vulnerability will be discussed, and the new “IUCN SSC Guidelines for Assessing Species’ Vulnerability to Climate Change” outlined.

How do we move from vulnerability to adaptation? Recognising that successfully adapting systems are those that reshuffle in ways that allow them to continue meeting conservation objectives, conservation practitioners need to become the ‘dance teachers’ promoting and coordinating this. A range of approaches and methods are emerging to support adaptation, including at species scale (e.g., translocation and ex situ conservation), site scale (e.g., creating habitat refuges and decreasing non-climatic stressors) and landscape scale (e.g., increasing protected area connectivity and permeability). I discuss these and outline some of the key challenges ahead for dance teachers of the “Climate Change Shuffle”.


Wendy Foden is a conservation biologist who focuses on providing scientifically robust and pragmatic support for biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change. She is a Senior Researcher at the University of Stellenbosch, and chairs the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group. Wendy recently led development of the IUCN SSC Guidelines for Assessing Species’ Vulnerability to Climate Change, and spearheaded IUCN’s trait-based approach to assessing species’ vulnerability to climate change. She currently coordinates the African component of the Species Spatial Planning for Protected Areas in Response to Climate Change (SPARC) project and lectures in Conservation Leadership.

Wendy founded and led the IUCN Global Species Programme’s Climate Change Unit, Cambridge (2007-2013), where she led development of IUCN’s biological trait-based approach to assessing species’ vulnerability to climate change. This included its subsequent application to the world’s birds, amphibians, corals, and a range of other West African, Albertine Rift and Madagascan species. A native of South Africa, her previous roles included managing the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s Threatened Species Programme (2003-2007) where she initiated several Red Listing, atlasing and monitoring projects, and founded a scholarship for research on threatened species conservation. Prior to that, as a researcher in SANBI’s Climate Change and Biodiversity Group, Wendy studied Namib Desert Quiver Trees and documented some of the first evidence of climate change impacts in arid ecosystems and on plants.

Wendy has a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand, and completed a visiting fellowship at the University of Cambridge. She serves as a trustee of the Environment Africa Trust and on the committee of the Young Women Conservation Biologist group of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Africa Section. Wendy’s main research areas include climate change vulnerability assessment, adaptation planning, biodiversity monitoring and indicators, African conservation and systems ecology. She has a specific interest in translating science for practical conservation use, and in fostering conservation leadership. Wendy has a great love for wild and remote places, where she can frequently (not) be found.