A baby turtle moving across the sand

Australia's natural species and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Managing species and natural ecosystems in a changing climate

CSIRO's Climate Adaptation Flagship research is developing and delivering adaptation options to protect Australia’s marine and terrestrial species, ecosystems and the services they provide.

  • 25 June 2010 | Updated 30 January 2014

Australia's ecosystems

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Australia's natural species and ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change and will have difficulty adapting to the rate and extent of projected changes. Many species are at risk because they are restricted in geographical and climatic range.

Alpine regions, south-western Australia, coral reefs and freshwater wetlands are likely to be particularly vulnerable. There are also likely to be significant changes to our marine ecosystems due to warmer water temperatures and the threat of ocean acidification.

To manage and conserve these ecosystems we need to be able to:

  • anticipate and measure the changes in species and ecosystems
  • understand their implications
  • design effective adaptation responses to minimise losses of species and services, and capture opportunities for positive change. 

Value of Australia's ecosystems

While attempts to value our ecosystems in financial terms are difficult, the role that natural ecosystems play in maintaining human life is currently irreplaceable and beyond price.

About 80 per cent of Australia's vertebrate species and plant species are found nowhere else in the world.

The benefits of Australia's biodiversity include direct utilitarian values (food, timber, fibre and medicines) and ecosystem services (example, maintaining water quality) as well as aesthetic, recreational, scientific, educational and spiritual values.

The value of tourism alone to Australia is in excess of A$80 billion per year, with many visitors coming to enjoy our unique environments, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park.

Australia's biodiversity is also an important part of Earth's life support system as about 80 per cent of Australia's vertebrate and plant species are found nowhere else in the world.

Threats in a changing climate

Climate change poses a clear danger to Australia's natural ecosystems with more than 310 species of native animals and over 1180 species of native plants already at risk of extinction from invasive alien species and altered habitat, as well as resource harvesting and other human activities.

The scale and complexity of the threat is difficult to measure as there are few, if any, ecosystems where all the species present have even been listed and probably no ecosystems where all the interactions between species are fully understood.

Anything that can be done to reduce the negative impacts of climate change will provide great environmental, social and financial benefits.

Research areas

To identify and manage the threats facing our biodiversity and ecosystems Flagship researchers are working in two key areas:

  1. Predicting the responses of natural ecosystems to climate change, and developing adaptation options to improve their resilience
  2. Reducing the threats posed by invasive species, bushfires and habitat loss through development of well prioritised response strategies.

The Climate Adaptation Flagship is providing information for ecosystem managers and policy makers. By actively responding to requests from policy agencies, CSIRO is helping to improve how climate change adaptation is embedded into policy.

For further information about science into policy and management contact Dr Michael Dunlop: analysing long-term natural resource issues.