Climate change threatens survival of north-east Queensland wet tropics

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New research by Macquarie University climate change ecologist, Dr Linda Beaumont, suggests climate change over the coming decades may place substantial strain on the integrity and survival of Global 200 ecoregions worldwide, including the World Heritage-listed north-east Queensland Wet Tropics.

In a study funded by the Australian Research Council and published in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, lead author Dr Linda Beaumont, along with Professor Andrew Pitman from the University of NSW and other Australian and European colleagues, said many Global 200 regions are already exposed to threats from other environmental and social pressures, but combined with climate change, their loss will be increased dramatically throughout the 21st century.

The Global 200 is a list of high-priority conservation ecoregions identified by the World Wildlife Fund for their irreplaceability or distinctiveness. Beaumont indicates that standard conservation practices may prove insufficient for the long term survival of some of these ecoregions.

“In essence, we will see what was deemed as extreme climate conditions previously, become the norm as the century progresses,” said Beaumont. “For some ecoregions, where plant growth is limited by cold temperatures, increases in temperature may be beneficial. For others it will mean greater exposure to heat and moisture stress.”

Beaumont explains that the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics of north-east Queensland is particularly vulnerable.

“An increase in average monthly temperature of just 1.5°C, will see this region experience climate conditions that rarely occurred last century. Many species that live there are found nowhere else on earth. We know that some have already been impacted by global warming, such as the Lemuroid Ringtail Possum, and as temperatures rise, their survival is under threat,” she said.

Whether and when climate change will result in substantial species turnover and dramatic changes to the Global 200 ecoregions will depend, in part, on their exposure to other human pressures and their ability to adapt.

“Experts in the behaviour of specific ecoregions must now start exploring how exposure to new climate regimes can increase the vulnerability of the Global 200 to future climate change.”

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