Friday, October 19, 2012

Climate Change is Placing Increasing Pressure on Queensland’s Ecosystems

Mountain-top ecosystem. Kara Brugman
by Dr Kristen Williams, Research Scientist in Ecological Geography at CSIRO and Dr Michael Dunlop, Senior Research Scientist: land-water-biodiversity-climate at CSIRO, The Conversation:

Climate change will place increasing pressure on Australia’s natural environments in the future. Queensland is no exception.

CSIRO and the Queensland Government recently conducted an in-depth review and synthesis of the existing scientific literature.

The resulting report shows that climate and ocean changes will affect Queensland’s marine, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in ways that are more widespread and, in many situations, more extreme than currently recognised.

Even under a moderate global emissions scenario, there are likely to be very significant ecological changes at most locations in Queensland by 2070.

It is impossible to predict exactly how ecosystems will change, but our models indicate that in any affected location more than half the plant species in that location in 2070 could differ to those there today.

This example provides an indication of the magnitude of the environmental change that ecosystems may face. Actual levels of change at any location could be higher or lower depending on how individual species respond and interact with each other.

These findings mirror CSIRO’s Australia-wide assessment of the impact of climate change on biodiversity conservation and the National Reserve System. Species and ecosystems will be very sensitive to anticipated levels of future environmental change, and existing pressures greatly reduce their ability to adapt to those changes.

Some areas of international significance are particularly at risk, such as the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. The Wet Tropics was identified as a global climate change “hot spot” by the IPCC in 2007. Our report found that the entire region is expected to experience significant environmental change; some mountain top ecosystems may disappear entirely.

The Great Barrier Reef is expected to face the combined influences of warming, ocean acidification and storm activity. It is generally expected to have its mix of species altered, be prone to disease and bleaching, have reduced coral cover, and become more dominated by algae.

The report indicates that, under a scenario of two degrees increase in average global temperature, ocean acidification will be severely affecting reefs by the mid century.

Last month’s Climate Commission report, The Critical Decade, said future operations of the agriculture and tourism industries will be significantly affected as climate change alters the ecosystems on which they rely.

The cultural identity of North Queensland’s tourism sector relies heavily on the integrity of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef. CSIRO’s report describes how climate change could cause disruptions and significant economic losses while the tourism industry adjusts.

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