Australia– There will be no choice but to accept permanent changes to Victoria’s beloved bushland as climate change worsens, some of the state’s leading environmental scientists say.
Accepting those changes could force a rethink of how some areas are protected and restored in order to give Victoria’s threatened wildlife species the best chances of survival in warmer conditions.
The need to accept change is one of the main findings of a landmark symposium that drew together research on the pressures global warming is placing on Victoria’s unique plants and animals, and what might be done to protect them.
The results of the symposium, held last year, have been turned into a series of 10 measures that scientists say should be taken to lessen the climate blow on nature, which will be released online on Monday under the title VicNature 2050.
They include ramping up many traditional conservation efforts, such as eradicating pest threats, stopping habitat clearing, and the protecting of reserves. But there are limits, and another recommendation says, “we will have no choice but to accept more changes in natural areas than we are accustomed to”.
“There is no simple answer. But accepting that some things are going to change is something that has not quite got across to a lot of people yet,” Professor Ary Hoffmann, from the Bio21 Institute at the University of Melbourne, told Fairfax Media,.
“There is a mindset that has to shift, that all of a sudden we’re not trying to revert things back to a pristine position.”
One example raised was whether alpine ash trees should be continued to be reseeded in the Alpine National Park after bushfires, which become more frequent and intense in Victoria under many future climate change scenarios.
To replace dead trees after recent fires, authorities sowed 1800 hectares of alpine ash seeds. But needing 20 years to be fully established, questions were raised at the symposium about whether the same species should be reseeded again if another bushfire wiped the seedlings out.
Professor Hoffmann said that in areas where the alpine ash could still survive it should be protected and restored. But in some places, more fire-resilient tree species might need to be considered in the face of a more frequent fire threat, to ensure continued species habitat.
“We may have to accept the fact there is not much point trying to recreate that environment, and have a debate about what this area should look like so you are still preserving the ecosystem function of those areas,” he said.
Evidence presented to the the symposium last year found climate change would by 2050 increase the average temperature of Victoria by 1.5 to 2.5 degrees. This would create similar climate conditions to Wagga Wagga.
Professor Andrew Bennett, an ecologist from La Trobe University and the Arthur Rylah Institute, said it was still important to ensure existing natural systems were as robust as possible, such as protection of vegetation and eradicating feral pests, to give threatened species the best chance under climate change.
For instance, he said his group’s research had shown Victorian bird species had recovered better from the record-breaking millenium drought in areas with well vegetated streams and riversides as opposed to those which were cleared.
Professor Bennett said he took a cautious approach to adopting new wildlife species to prepare for future climates, and the first step should be trials in already cleared areas.
The “managing Victoria’s biodiversity under climate change” symposium was organised by the Victorian National Parks Association, the Royal Society of Victoria and the University of Melbourne.
TEN MEASURES TO HELP VICTORIAN NATURE ADAPT TO CLIMATE CHANGE
1. Listening, engaging and working with people.
2. Accepting that natural areas will change.
3. Protecting reserves and looking after nature on private land.
4. Removing threats such as weeds and feral animals.
5. Using natural processes like fires and floods to promote diversity.
6. Connecting landscapes and using “climate-ready” plants.