CSIRO's landmark Australia-wide assessment of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and the National Reserve System (NRS), The Implications of Climate Change for Biodiversity, Conservation and the National Reserve System, will inform future management of Australia's protected areas.

The challenge

Climate change will impact Australia's biodiversity conservation and protected areas

There is compelling evidence, gathered over past decades, that the impacts of climate change on the world's biodiversity are likely to be significant.

Kata Tjuta (Mount Olga)

Protected areas (13.4 per cent of the country*) are crucial for conserving biodiversity and supporting ecological processes beneficial to human well-being.

However, in most cases, planning and management frameworks for protected areas have historically been developed with little consideration future global climate change.

With recent knowledge and awareness of the impacts that climate change has on biodiversity, decision makers can now understand the implications of climate change for protected area networks, and in particular how planning and management may need to adapt.

Impacts have already led to observed changes in:

  • the distributions of species
  • the timing of many critical life history stages (such as reaching reproductive maturity)
  • plant and animal physiology
  • gender ratios
  • ecosystem net primary production, nutrient cycling, and water cycling
  • ecosystem structure and function
  • competition, parasitism, predation, dispersal and habitat.

*Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

Our response

Understanding what is driving biodiversity change

To help inform conservation management of Australia's protected areas, CSIRO researchers analysed the impacts of climate change on native species and ecosystems Australia-wide.

Spinifex plain near Paraburdoo, Western Australia

The research focused on understanding the environmental changes which will drive biodiversity change in four key biomes and the management responses which may be required.

It included synthesising published information, expert and stakeholder knowledge, and new information from ecosystem modelling analyses.

The main areas of activity involved:

  • producing four biome-specific reviews of baseline information and the potential impacts of climate change on ecosystems within each biome
  • expert and stakeholder workshops on the implications of climate change for conservation and the reserve system in each biome
  • modelling potential impacts at biome-scale, using three complementary quantitative techniques synthesising results for each biome
  • analysing and synthesising results across the four biomes, including qualitative analyses of the implications of climate change for conservation in the biome and the NRS, highlighting common lessons, regionally specific lessons, and assessing the potential usefulness and limitations of different types of information for regional assessments across all biomes in Australia.

The project builds on the results from the 2008 report, Implications of climate change for Australia’s National Reserve System - A preliminary assessment.

The results

Ecological change in response to climate change is unavoidable

The results of the project are detailed in the report, The Implications of climate change for biodiversity, conservation and the National Reserve System: Final synthesis.

The scope of the challenge of adapting biodiversity management to climate change is shaped by the nature of the future impact of climate change on biodiversity, including its magnitude and extent; by our ability to predict future ecological changes; and by spatial variation in both climate impacts and Australian landscapes.

Policymakers can be very confident that ecological change in response to climate change is unavoidable; it will be widespread and it will be substantial. Future biodiversity management plans will need to allow for substantial changes in biodiversity, despite the unpredictable nature of some of these changes.

Key messages from the research

  • Ecological change will be widespread and potentially very significant
    Within decades, environments across Australia will be substantially different from those currently experienced by biodiversity at most locations. As a result, biodiversity management may need to change significantly to minimise future losses.
  • Biodiversity will be affected by climate change in many different ways
    The different processes of ecological change, each driven by climate change, will combine to make prediction about the details of change and likely loss of biodiversity very difficult. As a result, managers will be faced with ongoing uncertainty about some aspects of the future changes to the systems they manage, and this will constrain the choice of options for managing biodiversity.
  • There will be much spatial variation in ecological change
    The spatial variation in biodiversity, in Australia's landscapes and in climate change provides many opportunities for management to facilitate the natural adaptation of biodiversity through ecological and evolutionary processes.

Other reports in the climate change, biodiversity conservation and the National Reserve System series can be downloaded below.

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