Changes in climate ‘the most pervasive threat’ to forests, wetlands and deserts, adding to harm caused by urban development, agriculture and invasive species
Climate change is compounding existing threats to Australia’s forests, wetlands and deserts, with several key landscapes now at risk of total collapse, a landmark series of new studies have found.
An assessment of 13 ecosystems across Australia, ranging from the wet tropics of far north Queensland to rare shrubland in Western Australia, found what researchers call a “worrying” climate change impact that adds to existing harm caused by urban development, agriculture and invasive species.
The research is the first of its kind to assess Australian ecosystems based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s benchmark Red List criteria which has, until recently, focused on the status of individual animal and plant species rather than whole landscapes.
Under the Red List criteria, eight of the studied Australian ecosystems would be classified as “endangered” or “critically endangered”, with just the Lake Eyre wetlands considered in the “least concern” category.
Professor David Keith of the University of NSW, who led the international team to expand the Red List to ecosystems, said the Australian study, which he also led, shows that climate change is leaving its imprint on vast swaths of the environment.
“The overall picture is one of increasing risk,” he told Guardian Australia. “Climate change is amplifying other threats. It’s the most pervasive threat because it cuts across everything, whereas habitat loss and diseases are specific to individual systems. It’s very worrying.”
Changes in the climate – Australia has warmed by nearly 1C over the past 100 years – are having a variety of effects, the research published in Austral Ecology found.
A decline in rainfall in south-west Western Australia is threatening incredibly diverse but rare shrublands that require moisture during a crucial window for seedlings during the year. Meanwhile, forests perched on the mountains of Lord Howe Island are drying out because the damp clouds that envelop them are becoming sparser.
Press link for more: Oliver Milman | theguardian.com