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Climate change is placing increasing pressure on Queensland’s ecosystems

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…

In some parts of Queensland, half the plant species may be displaced. Laura Thorn

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 mountain-top ecosystems may disappear entirely. Kara Brugman

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.

Rural industries depend on ecosystem services, such as productive native pastures, shade trees and shelter-belts, pest control, pollination, photosynthesis, water filtering and nutrient cycling. Projected changes in the climate may lead to a decline in these services, compromising industry viability in some landscapes, and placing pressure on them to adapt.

Queensland’s landscapes will be significantly different in the future. The magnitude of changes to local ecosystems, including changes to species distribution and abundance, will challenge the prevailing worldviews and community values throughout the state. This may have implications for biodiversity legislation.

If we are to successfully protect ecosystems and the services they provide, we will need to manage these landscapes differently. Substantial ecological change means a shift in management objectives will also be needed. These objectives are likely to be more effective if they promote a coordinated response between government, industry, science and the broader community to manage, rather than resist, change.

There is already significant pressure on biodiversity. SJI Photography

We will need to balance our desire to protect individual species with the need to preserve ecosystem services and functional landscapes as a whole. Planning over longer time scales and wider geographical areas is likely to produce better results for biodiversity conservation.

Current approaches to conservation have not been sufficient to halt biodiversity decline. A much greater effort in managing ecosystems in our landscapes will be required if we are to minimise losses with the additional pressures of climate change.

Land management systems will need to adapt to change quickly. Managers will need a greater capacity to anticipate and account for future ecological impacts as part of their current decision making processes. Upfront investment and support from all those involved will help design and delivery early action.

Adaptation of biodiversity can be supported through landscape-scale management that protects and restores key areas of habitat. This will help species survive over the long term, enhancing their ability to withstand shocks and providing options for movement. Areas that are important to the viability of ecosystems under future climate conditions will need to be identified and conserved. So will areas that can provide refuge for species from the direct impacts of climate change.

Clearly, helping our ecosystems adapt to climate change will challenge the future of natural resource management. Given the importance of what is at stake, it is a challenge we should meet.

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86 Comments sorted by

  1. Comment removed by moderator.

    1. In reply to Ian Mott

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    2. In reply to Ian Mott

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    3. In reply to Phil Dolan

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    4. In reply to Ian Mott

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    5. In reply to Ian Mott

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    6. In reply to Ian Mott

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    7. In reply to Ian Mott

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    8. In reply to Ian Mott

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    9. In reply to Ian Mott

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    10. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    11. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    12. In reply to Ian Mott

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    13. In reply to Ian Mott

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    14. In reply to Ian Mott

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    15. In reply to Mike Hansen

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    16. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    17. In reply to Ian Mott

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    18. In reply to Ian Mott

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    19. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    20. In reply to Ian Mott

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    21. In reply to Tim Scanlon

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    22. In reply to Ian Mott

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    23. In reply to Ian Mott

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  3. Adam Butler

    Engineer and Data Analyst

    So while the state of QLD (and others) face an extremely fragile future our "leaders" in govt continue to endorse and expand destructive industrial practices. Campbell Newman has approved the largest coal mine in the country and plans to use the GBR as a shipping superway for said coal.

    Why the hell are we doing this? My children have no future.

    Homines esse stultum.

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  4. Jane Rawson

    Editor, Energy & Environment at The Conversation

    Dear all, please try to keep your comments on topic: the subject of the article is not, "is there such a thing as human-induced climate change?", it is "what measures should we take to deal with the effects climate change may have in Queensland?". Thanks.

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    1. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Jane Rawson

      So it's no longer about "what can we do to prevent the effects," more of a "how do we make the best of a bad situation."

      I've been saying for quite a long time now that some redundancies need to be in place for a worst-case-scenario, but never been quite certain about what that scenario might be. I did once read (when I was a teenager and quite naive to the complexities of introducing new technologies) that it may be possible to seed ozone-repairing chemicals in the sky with high-altitude/low-orbit aircraft.

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    2. Spiro Vlachos

      AL

      In reply to Jane Rawson

      Dear Jane,

      It is the premise that there is human-induced climate change that is in question. This has not been addressed bar some wild statements of 2 degrees warming.

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    3. Ian Mott

      Partner

      In reply to Jane Rawson

      You really are a disgrace, Jane. You sat by while numerous people made personal smears of me with zero factual input and then chose, in faux impartiallity, to remove the lot. The fact is that Phil Jones, of CRU, who should know a bit about his own data set, has agreed that there has been no warming for 16 years.

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    4. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Ian Mott

      In other words, this isn't a debate about climate change, because it has been scientifically demonstrated to be what is happening. As for Phil Jones... http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/dec/01/climate-change-scientist-steps-down

      If he did indeed agree that there has been "no warming for 16 years," it would only be because of the fallaciousness of such a short-term period as an example.

      Also... it turns out, there's a little button on each post that says "report abuse". If you feel you are being lithely attacked, then feel free to use it.

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    5. Spiro Vlachos

      AL

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      Aren't we lucky that the democracy will elect a government at the next election that does not make decisions based on evidence provided by The Guardian.

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    6. Martin Bouckaert

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Spiro Vlachos

      This article was a demonstration of Phil Jones position on his own data, not evidence for climate change. Where did you learn your analytical skills?

      Research AND analysis, people!! Not just research, you need to do your analysis, too.

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    7. In reply to Jane Rawson

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    8. In reply to Neil Gibson

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    9. In reply to Ian Mott

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    10. Michael Fabiankovits

      Teacher

      In reply to Spiro Vlachos

      Spiro there is no scientific debate about whether climate change is occuring or not. 97% plus of climate scientists researching and publishing in the field and the vast majority of peer reviewed research agree that it is happening and mostly caused by man. Every internationally recognised scientific organisation on the planet agree as well that the evidence supports climate change and mostly caused by man.

      So in summary the scientific debate would be similar to that between the science for evolution as against intelligent design. The only reason climate change gets so confused is due to the fact of the money and political manipulation from fossil fuel companies funding misinformation and denialism to promote doubt and delay so they can make bigger profits.

      So that is why the science is not under question and the writer does not want fake denialism hijacking her article.

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    11. In reply to Phil Dolan

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    12. Michael Fabiankovits

      Teacher

      In reply to Spiro Vlachos

      We already have that governement. Labor have listened to the expert scientists in Australia and are doing what is regarded as the best, most efficient and cheapest way to lower carbon emissions. The libs make science decisions by opinion poll and the hate media. Very bad science.

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    13. In reply to Phil Dolan

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    14. Spiro Vlachos

      AL

      In reply to Jane Rawson

      Dear Jane, as academic research that has been put out for public display and comment, I find it ingenuous and biased that you delete comments on such research. Are we not permitted to scrutinise such research? Or are only comments in praise of such research allowed on this forum? It is commonplace for academic research to receive criticism, and if not it is a very poor use of public funds. If the authors find criticism unwelcome, then they should grow up or find some other career, or use their own funds to finance their exploits.

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    15. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Spiro Vlachos

      'Are we not permitted to scrutinise such research?'

      I wish you would instead of babbling nonsense.

      Given that the climate is going to change, have you any suggestions as to what we can do?

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    16. Ian Mott

      Partner

      In reply to Spiro Vlachos

      A waste of breath there filo mou. If Rawson was serious about responses to the question "what should we be doing in response to climate change" she would recognise that our response is, "no response is justified by the flimsy evidence". But in the brave new green utopia there are only 'approved responses" and denialism. And they call what they are doing "education".

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    17. Spiro Vlachos

      AL

      In reply to Phil Dolan

      Babbling nonsense: "Given that the climate is going to change".

      This is what our tax dollars are paying for?

      The premise of the article and the "anticipated levels of future environmental change" are illusory. So the answer to your babble is to do nothing. There are more important problems in society than climatic anticipations.

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    18. Phil Dolan

      Viticulturist

      In reply to Spiro Vlachos

      And as the article is about what to do, you have no need to contribute as you say do nothing. Bye.

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    19. Spiro Vlachos

      AL

      In reply to Phil Dolan

      Yes, the article is asking the question: What do we do about an illusory problem?

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    20. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Martin Bouckaert

      That's Jules Verne and the whole Victorian era to me Martin, everything was possible, and although I loved his books they will not work as I know it. We're in the age of probability and statistics now, and probability tell us categorically that we can't guarantee a outcome, and statistics points out that the more sources the better the statistics. To get the probability and statistics perfectly right you would need to know all parameters, before starting any world spanning project, and that's practically impossible. We're still having a hard time predicting our local weather..

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  5. Yoron Hamber

    Thinking

    Reading you I still have this nagging feeling that what we can do is to adapt, but not change. Trying to make some habitat fit some presumptions or assumptions of what will be in fifty years will most probably be wrong. Better to take it slow and follow what happens as closely as possible.

    If there is a cyclic 'oscillating' trend for our changing climate with a 'peak' from where it stabilizes in some new configuration, which it most probably will be, then the time to humanly 'geoadapt' a environment must come after that fact, not before.

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    1. Michael Dunlop

      Senior Research Scientist: land-water-biodiversity-climate at CSIRO

      In reply to Yoron Hamber

      You are right Yoron, in most situations is will be impossible to predict what habitat should be like or what places will best suit specific species and then manage towards those goals. However, there is a danger that just being adaptive (waiting till it is really clear what environmental change has occurred then responding) will lead to action way too late. Think about habitat clearing and over extraction from many river systems in Australia: by the time it was evident that they were having large…

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    2. Yoron Hamber

      Thinking

      In reply to Michael Dunlop

      Yes, it will be hard work outguessing a changing Eco-system, and I wish you the best of luck in doing so. Also it should depend on how fast the change is, right? Assuming decades very little of a habitats plants, flora will be able migrate, and so they will become endangered species. When it comes to us 'animals' we stand a better chance as i think, but we're also dependent on the fauna and oceans. We're going to lose a lot of gene diversification as a guess, especially if the warming accelerates. It will be a poorer Earth for us.

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  6. Tim Scanlon

    Debunker

    Regardless of anything, the rate of change in rainfall amounts and distribution is such that we have to rethink how and where we produce food. Environmental considerations will have to be closely associated with that.

    A recent article I read pointed out the folly of continuing to mine coal, especially open cut, and seeking to do so in agricultural areas. Not only is this a bad thing for the local environment, it is bad for the climate and it is bad for our food. The shifts that are needed are huge.

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