At opening today of the 10th International Ecology Congress (INTECOL – jointly hosted by the New Zealand and Australian Ecological Societies), the Australian Minister for Climate Change launched a new report that examines already-observable impacts on biodiversity due to climate change, and details what conservation and policy changes these impacts will increasingly demand.
The Australian SMC has rounded up the following comments from ecologists:
Professor Will Steffen, Executive Director of the Climate Institute at The Australian National University and lead author of the report comments:
“This assessment takes a comprehensive view of the future of Australia’s biodiversity under a rapidly changing climate. Some important messages stand out:
“First, with unabated climate change, the rate of extinctions will rise sharply. We will indeed be facing an even more serious biodiversity crisis than we have today. With a worst case scenario, our ecosystems would face a shift in climate equivalent to the transition from the last ice age to the present warm period. That transition took thousands of years; this one would occur in just 100 years.
“Second, in terms of biodiversity, climate change is operating on anything but a clean slate. We have already seen massive changes to our biotic fabric in the last 200 years. Most of these existing stressors – land fragmentation, invasive species, altered disturbance regimes – continue to operate. Indeed, many will be exacerbated by climate change. Thus, it is essential that we continue to deal with these existing stressors.
“Third, biodiversity intrinsically has low adaptive capacity to rapid change. The most appropriate approach to minimising biodiversity loss is to make space for ecosystems to self-adapt. This means a continuing focus on national parks and other protected areas as reservoirs of well-functioning ecosystems, but it also means an increasing emphasis on off-reserve conservation.
“Finally, Australians may well need to change our fundamental views of the natural world around us. Species may no longer exist in places we expect them to; some of our most valued ecosystems and biomes will change; and novel ecosystems will develop. Surprises will abound. But above all, we’ll need to invest much more in our natural environment if we are to maintain our essential ecosystem services, which ultimately depend on diverse and well-functioning ecosystems.”
Professor Lesley Hughes, Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University and a co-author on the report comments:
“The report is a strategic assessment of the potential vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change. Because we cannot predict in detail how any particular species or ecological community will be affected, we’ve taken the approach of articulating a set of ecological principles to make the assessments.
“We have also put climate change in the context of the many other threats that face our biodiversity. Climate change will impose an additional stress to biodiversity on top of an already highly stressed system.”