Sunday, December 11, 2011

Protecting biodiversity would limit damage

Nicky Phillips 
The Age, December 12, 2011  

THE impact of climate change on Australia's animals and plants could be significantly reduced if other threats to biodiversity are managed, a new report says.

The review, the most detailed scientific paper on the impact of climate change on the region to date, says climate change is unavoidable because global emissions are not yet under control. Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are particularly vulnerable, it says.

The report's lead author, the conservation biologist Richard Kingsford, said the effects of global warming could be offset by more than half by reducing the impact of feral animals, pollution, habitat loss and other threats to Australia's ecosystems.

Global warming will have consequences for all plant and animal species, from micro-organisms to large mammals living on land, in freshwater systems and the ocean, said Professor Kingsford, the director of the Australian wetlands and rivers centre at the University of NSW.

The review cites many independent scientific studies that demonstrate the effects of global warming on biodiversity, and its projected impact.

Rising temperatures will exceed some species' tolerance, especially in alpine regions, while increases in fire and drought will alter vegetation, favouring grasslands over trees and woodlands.

Rising sea levels will have a significant impact on low-lying islands, especially in the Pacific, while an increase in ocean acidification will affect marine animals with calcified skeletons.

"Ultimately we are dependent on biodiversity for our livelihood," Professor Kingsford said. "Plants provide the oxygen we need; the water we get from rivers is supported by catchments filled with plants and animals, and most of our food is supported by biodiversity."

Already many changes among animals and plants have been observed, Professor Kingsford said, such as coral bleaching, altered flowering patterns and shifts in the migration times of animals, particularly birds.

The last resort to prevent extinction for some species would mean relocation to a new habitat, he said.

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