For policy making and spatial planning, information is needed about the impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems. To provide this information, commonly hydrological and ecological models are used. We give arguments for our assessment that modelling only is insufficient for determining the impacts of climate changes on natural ecosystems at regional scales. Instead, we proposed a combination of hydrological simulations, a literature review and process-knowledge on climate-hydrology-vegetation interactions, to compile a sketch map that indicates climate change effects on a number of ecosystems in the Netherlands. Soon after a first version of our sketch map was published by a Dutch professional journal, copies appeared in policy documents, and also in a commercial and popular atlas of the Netherlands. Moreover, the map led to a question in the Dutch parliament about the sustainability of bog reserves under the future climate. Apparently, there was an urgent need for the information provided by the map.
The map shows that climate change will presumably have the largest influence on ecosystems in the Netherlands that depend on precipitation as the major water source, like heathlands, dry grasslands, rain-fed moorland pools and raised bogs. Also highly susceptible are fens in reserves surrounded by deeply drained polders, because such fens depend on the inlet of surface water, of which quality is likely to deteriorate upon climate change. While the map is indicative for directions of change, in view of the uncertainties of our study, no conclusions should be drawn that may have far-reaching consequences, such as giving up certain nature targets that might no longer be feasible in the future climate. Instead, we advise to anticipate the potential threats from climate change by taking a number of adaptation measures that enhance the robustness of nature reserves.
To improve climate change projections on hydrology and ecosystems, future research should especially focus on feedbacks of vegetation on the water balance, on processes that directly influence plant performance and on the ecological effects of weather extremes.