A new study offers pathways to improve monitoring and evaluation (M&E) of climate-informed conservation while revealing how practitioners are currently monitoring conservation adaptation projects. This research examines a portfolio of 76 conservation adaptation initiatives that were led by non-governmental organizations and implemented in diverse ecosystems across the United States between 2011 and 2017.

This study, published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice, was co-authored by researchers at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Forestry, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The findings reveal that some best practices from M&E in conservation, such as closely tying monitoring plans to a theory of change, are underutilized. While the majority of projects reported social outcomes (co-benefits to human communities) in addition to ecological outcomes at their project completion, their monitoring plans focused primarily on ecological and biophysical changes. Only 15 percent of projects planned to collect data related to social outcomes, such as changes in perceptions or behaviors, and human well-being linked to restoration activities.

“As practitioners ramp up the implementation of nature-based solutions to meet adaptation and mitigation targets, our study offers insights from on-the-ground actions to help improve project tracking, management, and delivery of social and ecological outcomes,” said Lauren E. Oakes, Conservation Scientist on the Forests & Climate Change team at WCS, and the study’s lead author.

The research team also found that partnering with external institutions for M&E bolstered the comprehensiveness of the monitoring effort and offered other benefits.

Sais Shannon Hagerman, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia and the study’s senior author: “These partnerships delivered a suite of benefits, such as strengthened or higher quality design, enabling consistent data collection, and engaging a wider range of people and types of expertise in adaptation.”

Climate adaptation projects are interventions that help wildlife, ecosystems, and people adapt to climate change. Examples include restoring habitat with plant species that are more likely to survive future climate conditions, shifting fire management regimes and strategies to address more frequent and intense wildfires, and creating “living shorelines” to reduce coastal erosion and protect inland habitat and communities.

Practitioners, funders, and governments increasingly stress the importance of tracking progress and outcomes of such adaptation initiatives. Assessing mitigation outcomes generally relies on one indicator—the balance of greenhouse gas emissions to and removals from the atmosphere. However, measuring progress toward and outcomes of adaptation is complicated and requires tailoring M&E design to each project’s goals and objectives.

Sais Liz Tully, Associate Director of the WCS Climate Adaptation Fund: “Adaptation is inherently place-based and locally-led, and therefore difficult to scale without established, transferable processes and best practice. This study answers a challenging call from the field of practice since monitoring adaptation involves dynamic interactions across time, ecological processes, and evolving climate impacts.”

Adaptation represents a rapidly growing niche within the conservation community where well-designed learning and sharing of lessons are essential in the face of a changing climate, the impact from which are being felt at a faster pace and a larger scale. The authors highlight that finding avenues for practitioners to report results in more consistent and transparent ways will also be critical to determine the suitability of novel adaptation approaches for broader adoption in addition to improving the success of adaptation outcomes for nature and people.


This interdisciplinary research team was supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and research was conducted in partnership with the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group.

WCS’s Climate Adaptation Fund, supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, provides grants to NGOs for on-the-ground adaptation projects. To date the fund has awarded over $21 million to organizations in 48 states, commonwealths, territories and tribal lands.

About the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Environment Program: The mission of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF) is to improve the quality of people’s lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and child well-being, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke’s properties. The mission of DDCF’s Environment Program is to ensure a thriving, resilient environment for wildlife and people, and foster an inclusive, effective conservation movement. For more information, please visit www.ddcf.org.

About the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Faculty of Forestry: UBC’s Faculty of Forestry is a global leader in forestry education and research. What began in 1921, today embodies a comprehensive offering of undergraduate and graduate programs as well as world-renowned research and initiatives. Our programs and research draw from all forest science disciplines and model the broad spectrum of topics relating to forests’ interplay between our environment and all those who live on our planet. For more information, visit forestry.ubc.ca/news/media-centre.

About the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group: The IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group is a global network of scientists working at the research-policy-practice interface to strengthen nature conservation in a changing climate. With more than 60 members worldwide, we work at the forefront of climate change and biodiversity science to bridge knowledge gaps, build collaborations, and strengthen the community of practice around climate-focused conservation. Learn more at ccsg-iucn.com or follow us on Facebook (IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group) or Twitter (@IUCN_CCSG).