Australian rangelands and climate change – pastoral production and adaptation

Australian rangelands and climate change – pastoral production and adaptation Report

Climate Change in Australia – Impacts & Adaptation Information for Australia’s NMR Regions

  • Author(s): Bastin, G., Stokes, CJ., Green, D., Forrest, K.
  • Published: 2014
  • Publisher: Rangelands NMR Cluster, Ninti One Limited and CSIRO

Abstract: We anticipate that both gradual and transformational adaptation responses are required to suitably respond to likely climate change impacts on pastoral land use in the Rangelands Cluster region. Appropriate transformational change will probably require a fundamental shift in the current thinking (paradigm) about how rangelands are managed towards a more conservative risk-based approach to the use of natural resources. This will be a gradual process that requires facilitation, structural change and perhaps supporting legislation to achieve the best long-term outcomes for the pastoral industry and the natural resources on which grazing is based. It is unlikely that current best-management practices will remain so under projected climate change. We use a linked vulnerability and resilience framework (Maru et al. 2014) to illustrate how the range of available pastoral adaptations might best be implemented across the different NRM regions in the Rangelands Cluster. Among the climate change projections, hotter maximum temperatures and associated heatwaves, continuing highly variable rainfall and the probable occurrence of both more frequent drought and intense rainfall are considered the most adverse factors affecting future pastoralism. Good practical examples and appropriate technical advice are available to guide required short to medium timeframe adaptation responses to continuing rainfall variability and recurrent drought (e.g. out to about 2030).Examples of such packaged information include the Grazing Land Management program and Ecosystem Management Understanding™. Longer term adaptation may require a fundamentally more conservative approach to stocking rates, adjusting stocking rates as local pasture productivity changes (whether increases or decreases) and increasing the robustness of pastures by encouraging regeneration of palatable perennial forage (where possible).Repairing formerly productive, but now degraded, country may also have increased prominence as maximising rain use efficiency becomes more important through increased evaporation and reduced soil water availability. Hotter maximum temperatures and increased frequency and duration of heatwaves will place greater emphasis on human safety and wellbeing and animal welfare (particularly when stock is being handled).Both aspects may need to be more formally recognised and planned as part of routine station management. Longer periods of hotter weather will also require increased robustness in stock water supply. There will be a reduced safety margin around existing supplies as livestock consume more water in such periods. Repairs following failure will become more time critical before stock risk perishing or being exposed to conditions that threaten their welfare and production. Human occupational health and safety will also be paramount when attempting repairs to failed water infrastructure during heatwaves. Increased rainfall intensity has the potential to damage station infrastructure and increase erosion. The latter can be partly mitigated by maintaining minimum critical levels of ground cover on the most vulnerable soil types. Reducing the actual and financial risk of infrastructure damage may require its relocation to less vulnerable areas, a degree of over-engineering (by present-day standards) and increased use of insurance. Higher temperatures negatively affect pasture growth by reducing the efficiency with which plants use water, but this will be partly offset by the beneficial effects of rising atmospheric CO2 on pasture. Tropical and subtropical grasses with the C4 photosynthetic pathway are likely to expand ranges southward at the expense of existing C3 grasses. The digestibility and nutritive value of pastures are likely to decline from the combined effects of rising temperatures, increasing CO2 and increases in C4 grasses, so overall animal production may decrease. This can be alleviated for cattle by introducing/increasing Bos indicus genetics and increased use of nutritional supplements.C4 grasses are more flammable, and more extensive and frequent fires that burn hotter may result. Finally, we include in Appendix A a broad range of management options that may provide appropriate adaptation responses to anticipated climate change impacts. This list is meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive.

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Suggested Citation
Bastin, G., Stokes, CJ., Green, D., Forrest, K., 2014, Australian rangelands and climate change – pastoral production and adaptation, Report, viewed 15 June 2024,

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