Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change: a strategic assessment of the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change

Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change: a strategic assessment of the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change Report

A report to the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council commissioned by the Australian Government

  • Author(s): Steffen, W., Burbridge, A.A., Hughes, L., Kitching, R., Lindemeyer, D., Musgrave, W., Stafford Smith, D. Mark, Werner, P.A.
  • Tertiary Author(s): CSIRO Publishing
  • Published: 2009

Abstract: Australia’s unique biodiversity, already under threat from a wide range of stressors, now faces a further threat from a rapidly changing climate. Effects of climate change are already discernible at the genetic,species and ecosystem levels in many parts of the continent and coastal seas. Biodiversity is one of the most vulnerable sectors to climate change. Many of Australia’s most valued and iconic natural areas, and the rich biodiversity they support, are among the most vulnerable to climate change. They include the Great Barrier Reef, south-western Western Australia, the Australian Alps, the Queensland Wet Tropics and the Kakadu wetlands. Much is at stake in dealing effectively with the climate change challenge. Beyond the great richness it lends to our most iconic natural areas, biodiversity underpins our quality of life, our economy and much of our national identity. The magnitude and rate of climate change pose particularly severe challenges for natural ecosystems. The interaction of climate change with existing stresses – such as land clearing, fire and invasive species – and the different migration rates of species and consequent formation of novel ecosystems, add further levels of complexity. Significant changes are required in policy and management for biodiversity conservation to meet these types of challenges. First, management objectives for the future aimed at maintaining all species in their present locations and ecosystems in their present composition will no longer be appropriate. A management priority must be to maintain the provision of ecosystem services through a diversity of well-functioning ecosystems, some of which may have no present-day equivalent. Second, a central strategy is giving ecosystems the best possible chance to adapt by enhancing their resilience. Approaches to building resilience include managing appropriate connectivity of fragmented ecosystems, enhancing the National Reserve System, protecting key refugia, implementing more effective control of invasive species, and developing appropriate fire and other disturbance management regimes. In some instances, ecological engineering will need to be considered. Third, risk assessments are a key approach to identify especially vulnerable species and ecosystems. Riskspreading conservation strategies, coupled with active adaptive management approaches, are an effective way to deal with an uncertain climatic future. Fourth, reorientation of policy and legislative frameworks, and reform of institutional and governance architecture, are essential. These actions can support novel strategies for biodiversity conservation – such as integrated regional approaches tailored for regional differences in environments, climate change impacts and socio-economic trends. Finally, even with much more effective policy and management strategies, there is a limit to how much we can enhance the adaptive capacity of natural ecosystems (Figure 1). Without rapid and effective mitigation of climate change, there is a high risk of an accelerating wave of extinctions throughout the 21st century and beyond.

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Suggested Citation
Steffen, W., Burbridge, A.A., Hughes, L., Kitching, R., Lindemeyer, D., Musgrave, W., Stafford Smith, D. Mark, Werner, P.A., 2009, Australia’s Biodiversity and Climate Change: a strategic assessment of the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change, Report, viewed 22 June 2024, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=5123.

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