Wednesday , May 18 2022

Climate change makes QLD's ecosystem unrecognizable – it is up to us if we want to stop it


Climate change and those whose work it is to talk about current and future climate impact is often classified as "the harbing of death". For the world's biodiversity, the predictions are gloomy – loss of species, loss of pollination, dying coral reefs.

The reality is that without human intervention, ecosystems will transform themselves into response to climate change, what we can think of as "autonomous adaptation". For us people – we need to decide if we need or want to change the course.

For those looking for natural systems, our job description has been changed. So far, we have encrypted to protect or restore what we could reasonably consider to be "natural". During climate change it is difficult to decide what it should look like.

If the Great Barrier Reef still has some beautiful fish and coral in the future, and only researchers know that they are different species in the past, does it matter? It's an extreme example, but it's a good analogy for the types of decisions we might need to make.

Read more:
Annual bleaching threatens Great Barrier Reef's world heritage status

In Queensland, the government has just launched the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Climate Adaptation Plan for Queensland focused on what is considered important for making these decisions. The plan is high level, but is an important first step toward preparing the sector for the future.

Change ecosystems

For the rest of Queensland's ecosystem, the story is roughly the same as the Great Barrier Reef. There are the obvious regions in danger. Our coastal floodplains and wetlands are potentially threatened from both sides, with housing and development that make a rural march and the sea is pushing in from the other side. These ecosystems have literally nowhere to fall in love.

It is a similar story for species and ecosystems that specialize in cool mountain peaks at high altitudes. These small isolated populations are dependent on cold conditions. When the temperature warms, if they can not change their behavior (for example, taking refuge in cool spots or cracks during hot times) it is unlikely that they will survive without human intervention, such as translocation.

Read more:
Climate change can drain wild animals from Australia's rain forests

We are too familiar with the risk that coral reefs die and become a habitat for algae, but some of our less-high-profile ecosystems face similar transformations. Our tropical savannah forests cover much of the top third of Queensland. An iconic ecosystem in the north, massive weeds, and heavily changed fire regulations may threaten to make them unrecognizable.

Changing fire patterns and invasive species can see dramatic changes in Queensland's savannah woodland.

So where from here?

From the grumpy predictions we must gather to find a way forward. Critically for those who have to deal with our natural areas, it is about thinking about what we want to get out of our efforts.

Masters, both public (such as national parks) and private (eg non-profit conservation groups) must decide what their resources can achieve. Throwing money on a species that we can not save during climate change can be better replaced by focusing on the fact that we have art diversity or water quality. It's a difficult reality to swallow, but pragmatism is part of the climate change equation.

We led the development of the Queensland plan and were encouraged to discover a sector that had extensive knowledge, experience and willingness. The challenge for the Queensland government is to effectively distribute energy to address the problem.

Assessment of biodiversity

One of the clearest messages from many of the people we talked about was how biodiversity and ecosystems are valued by the broader society. Or not. It was clear that we must prioritize biodiversity and ecosystems.

Great Barrier Reef already sees great climate impact, especially bleaching.

It is easy to categorize biodiversity and conservation as a "green" issue. But apart from the intrinsic value or personal health and recreational value that most of us place on natural areas, without biodiversity, we risk losing things other than a good fishing spot.

Every farmer knows the importance of clean water and fertile soil to their economic prosperity. However, when our cities are dying from fire, we prioritize short-term economic returns, more housing or reduce biodiversity fire risk almost every time.

Of course, it does not mean that the balance is to be reversed, but climate change challenges our politicians, planners and us as the Queensland community to take responsibility for the effects our choices have on our biodiversity and ecosystems. As the pressure increases to adapt to other sectors, we should seek alternatives that can help – instead of preventing – adaptation into natural systems.

Coastal houses may feel worth investing in an ocean to protect their homes from rising sea levels, even if it involves sacrificing a scrap of coastal wetlands, but there are opportunities to meet both human needs and the need for biodiversity. We hope the Queensland plan can help promote these opportunities.

Cath Moran contributed to the development of this article.

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