Indicator: BD-15 Examples of impacts of climate variability on selected species, habitats or ecosystems

Data

Long-term datasets indicating changes or impacts due to climate variability are scarce. The following from Pittock (2003), Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts, summarises some studies on the issue.

A general increase in overstorey cover in central Queensland over the second half of the 20th century is forecast, during a period of higher than average rainfall. This contrasts with a trend in Tasmania toward an increased incidence of drought and eucalypt dieback.

Encroachment by Eucalyptus pauciflora into subalpine grasslands has been documented. In the alpine zone, there is evidence of shifts in vertebrate ranges to higher elevations over the thirty-year period to 1999. Records indicate a higher maximum altitudinal distribution for all three macropod species and for four species of introduced mammal, including the rabbit.

The landward transgression of mangroves into saltmarsh environments in the estuaries of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia over the past five decades is a widespread trend, with saltmarsh losses ranging up to 80%. Increases in rainfall and altered tidal regimes are implicated.

In some areas of the Northern Territory, expansion of some tidal creek systems has occurred since the 1940s, invading freshwater wetlands. More than 17 000 ha of formerly freshwater wetlands have been affected and another 35-40% of the plains are threatened. Both sea level rise and increases in rainfall have contributed to this situation.

There have been some major changes in seabird breeding distribution since the late 19th century in the transition zone between tropical and temperate seabird species off the coast of Western Australia. At least eight species have formed new breeding locations well to the south of their historical range and/or have seen marked population increases at their more southerly colonies. These changes correlate with an increased frequency of the El Nio phase of the Southern Oscillation.

Source: Australian Greenhouse Office, 2003, Climate Change: An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts, Canberra, viewed N/A, http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/science/guide/index.html.

List of upland wet tropic species affected by climate change
This lists the most vulnerable species of endemic vertebrates, those that are predicted to lose greater than 50% of their current area of core environment with only a 1 C increase in temperature
FROGS
Thornton Peak Nursery-Frog Cophixalus sp Thornton Peak
Magnificent Broodfog Pseudophryne covacevichae
Pipping Nursery-Frog Cophixalus hosmeri
Northern Barred Frog Mixophyes sp. Nov.
Tangerine Nursery-Frog Cophixalus neglectus
Bloomfield Nursery-Frog Cophixalus exiguus
Mountain Top Nursery-Frog Cophixalus monticola
Northern Tinkerfrog Taudactylus rheophilus
MAMMALS
Atherton Antechinus Antechinus godmani
Mahogany Glider Petaurus gracilis
Daintree River Ringtail Possum Pseudochirulus cinereus
Lemuroid Ringtail Possum Hemibelideus lemuroides
Herbert River Ringtail Possum Pseudochirulus herbertensis
Spotted-tailed Quoll Dasyurus maculatus
SKINKS
Thornton Peak Skink Calyptotis thorntonensis
Bartle Frere Skink Techmarscincus jigurru
Czechura's Litter Skink Saproscincus czechurai
Saproscincus lewisi Eulamprus frerei
Lampropholis robertsi Glaphyromorphus mjobergi
BIRDS
Golden Bowerbird Prionodura newtoniana
Atherton Scrubwren Sericornis keri
Mountain Thornbill Acanthiza katherina

Source: Rainforest CRC 2003, Global Warming in the Wet Tropics, Co-operative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology and Management, Cairns, viewed N/A, http://www.rainforest-crc.jcu.edu.au/publications/issueSeries/issuesSeries.htm.

The decline in distribution of species richness of regionally endemic terrestrial vertebrates with increasing temperature

The decline in distribution of species richness of regionally endemic terrestrial vertebrates with increasing temperature

Source: Krockenberger, A. K, Kitching, R. L. and Turton, S. M 2003, Environmental Crisis: Climate Change and Terrestrial Biodiversity in Queensland, CooperativeResearch Centre for Tropical RainforestEcology and Management. RainforestCRC, Cairns, viewed N/A, http://www.rainforest-crc.jcu.edu.au/publications/research reports/ReportPDFs/environmentalCrisisResearchReport.pdf.

Tropical forests

Tropical forests of north Queensland are sensitive to climate change. Large changes in the distribution of forest environments were simulated even for relatively modest climate change scenarios. Significant shifts in the extent and spatial distribution of such forests were considered likely, with the strongest effects being felt in the boundary regions between different types of forest such as rainforest and open woodland. It is suggested that most forests in tropical Queensland will in the near future experience climates that are more appropriate to other forest types. Highland rainforests in particular demonstrated strong sensitivity.

Source: Walsh, K, Cai, W, Hennessy, K, Jones, R, McInnes, K, Nguyen, K, Page C and Whetton, P 2002, Climate Change in Queensland under Enhanced Greenhouse Conditions, CSIRO, viewed N/A, http://www.longpaddock.qld.gov.au/ClimateChanges/pub/FullReportHighRes.pdf.

What the data mean

Research indicates that impacts from climate change are occurring now in a range of habitat types including those in alpine, tropical, coastal, brigalow and tidal areas. Many models predict greater impacts in the future.

Data Limitations

Impacts due to climate change are difficult to measure because change can result from the interaction of a number of pressures, including natural fluctuations of climate that may take place over far longer periods than since data collection of any kind commenced. Most data are based on predictive models and data on current impacts on biodiversity are limited.

It is also difficult to obtain trend data in relation to management response to climate variability eg vegetation corridors may be planted to connect climate change refuges but also for other purposes such as salinity control.

Issues for which this is an indicator and why

Biodiversity — Pressures on biodiversity - Climate variability 

As there is no continent-wide method of measuring changes that can be directly attributed to climate change across all species and habitats, examples of changes that appear to be directly attributable to this cause is at present the only useful indicator of the pressure of climate change on biodiversity.

Other indicators for this issue:

Inland Waters — Catchment scale influences - Influence of climate variability and change 

As there is no continent-wide method of measuring changes that can be directly attributed to climate change across all species and habitats, examples of changes that appear to be directly attributable to this cause is at present the only useful indicator of the pressure of climate change on freshwater biodiversity.

Other indicators for this issue:

Coasts and Oceans — Contributions and pressures between the coasts and oceans and the atmosphere - Climate and carbon dioxide 

As there is no continent-wide method of measuring changes that can be directly attributed to climate change across all species and habitats, examples of changes that appear to be directly attributable to this cause is at present the only useful indicator of the pressure of climate change on marine biodiversity.

Other indicators for this issue:

Land — Contributions and pressures between the land and the atmosphere - Climate 

As there is no continent-wide method of measuring changes that can be directly attributed to climate change across all species and habitats, examples of changes that appear to be directly attributable to this cause is at present the only useful indicator of the pressure of climate change on terrestrial biodiversity.

Other indicators for this issue:

Further Information

Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity in Australia, Outcomes of a workshop sponsored by the Biological Diversity Advisory Committee, 1-2 October 2002:

Rainforest CRC:

Macquarie University Climate Change Ecology Group:

Qld Department of Natural Resources & Mines:

AIMS