Climate change will force us to confront our thinking on management of Wildlife Conservation Reserves.

One interesting thought is that with climate change there will be a change in not only in weather patterns but necessarily in the life forms that occupy the new environments that will be created. Around the world it is already becoming apparent that the conditions no longer favour some species. As in all situations it is survival of the fittest and new species replace the old as they can better adapt.

Last week Australia’s CSIRO released the report, Implications of Climate Change for the National Reserve System, prepared for the Federal Government, that argued that climate change is likely to transform many of Australia’s natural landscapes. With temperatures over Australia projected to rise by about 1 ºC by 2030, and 1.8 ºC by 2070, relative to 1990 levels, author Dr Michael Dunlop says climate change is forcing environmental scientists to rethink their approach to the management of these national conservation areas.

Australia is a biodiversity ‘hot spot’ on the planet but has a regrettable history of species loss. In fact Australia has lost more mammal species than anywhere else in the world. A lot of the changes and threats have not been caused by climate change alone but also by change in land use, new pests, and fire regimes. The effects of these however, have been exacerbated by climate change and those charged with the management of these areas now have to adapt their thinking.

Dr Dunlop posits that

“traditionally, conservation has focussed on preventing change or restoring landscapes toward a pre-European state, but we now have to accept that change is inevitable, and it’s happening quite fast. Some animals and plants will be found in places where they’ve never been seen before, and others will disappear from areas where they were once common, and for many regions the look, sound, and smell of the landscapes we are familiar with will gradually change.”

Organisms are moving, birds are spreading further south, and fewer frosty days are forcing some species southward. Others, like the snow gums of the alpine areas will not be able to move. For some special cases an ark like approach may have to do and they may have to be kept in zoos.

The report confirms that Australia’s 9 000 protected areas are critical for nature conservation in a warming world. In addition Dr Dunlop says new protected areas will also be needed.

He feels that there’s a lot we don’t yet understand, but we know more species will have a greater chance to adapt and survive if we protect:

  • as many different types of habitat as possible;
  • larger areas of habitat; and
  • locations that have historically provided a refuge for biodiversity during times of climatic stress

Indeedthe scientists believe that the philosophy of keeping everything as is, not letting anything else in, needs re-thinking and that a philosophical discussion is needed to adapt to the new conditions we find ourselves in, more than one response operating, to help adaptation. Regional conversations within a national strategy to make management adaptable.

Acting carefully will be required, because with new situations, our actions may make things worse and new species moving into areas may affect the delicate interdependencies of existing species. Yet it could represent the needs of the new environmental conditions. We may have to shift our perceptions of the threat that is being faced. “One increasing challenge will be deciding how to respond when native species turn up in new areas and threaten local species,” Dr Dunlop says.

As the rate of climate change is unknown, it will be far better to mitigate the situation, slowing down the progress of climate change. The reserves represent 11 percent of the landmass of Australia and National Park rangers and local conservationists will be on the front line in helping nature adapt to climate change. In the process their thinking will also have to undergo a process of adaptation. This case is not restricted to Ausatralia alone, all nations will have to confront these changes and in fact are facing them already as species decline, new diseases and pests benefit from the climate change and the known rapidly becomes the unknown. We will all have to adapt to the new landscape and the unexpected ecosystem that it now supports. What is sure is that these discussions must occur at all levels of society and government. We are definitely heading into uncharted territory that will challenge our capacity to accept change.

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~ by abstraktbiblos on Tuesday, 8 April, 2008.

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