The impacts of climate change will be considerable across Victoria’s remaining natural areas. The most important thing to do about that, of course, is to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint.
But no matter what we do, the climate is already changing, and those changes will continue. That presents real challenges for natural areas already compromised by pest plants and animals, and a range of human impacts.
It’s not just a matter of increasingly warmer weather, but of more extreme weather events: longer periods of drought, more frequent flooding rain and more frequent bushfires. Along the coast we will face rising seas and more frequent storm surges.
There will be significant changes to our natural areas, some of which we may not like.
Frequent fire is already affecting Victoria’s towering alpine and mountain ash forests. Ash eucalypts are readily killed by fire, but the young regrowth doesn’t produce seed for about 15 years, so another fire in that period can mean no regrowth at all. Near Harrietville, in north-eastern Victoria, alpine ssh forests have experienced fire in 2003, 2007 and 2013, and some places have had to be manually re-seeded to help maintain the forests.
Just over the border in the Monaro high plains of NSW, an uncommonly long period of drought appears to have caused the demise of manna gum woodlands.
We can also expect invasions of new pest plants and animals, with many ecosystems unpredictably changing and sometimes struggling as they fail to adapt.
There are many ways we can help our natural areas (apart from reducing carbon emissions!).
One of the best things is to do more of what we already do, such as managing pest plants and animals to reduce existing stresses. Another is to get to work planting corridors between isolated areas, especially along streamsides, so animals and some plants have opportunities to migrate.
But many plants have poor seed dispersal, and climate change is happening so fast that most plants will have to rough out changing conditions where they are.
Another, more challenging, option is to introduce genetic variants of plants in a given habitat type, from areas further north. Then, when climate impacts hit, the northern version of that plant might be better adapted, and survive.
To learn how best to do that, it could be very useful to set up a series of ‘Climate Future’ experimental plots across Victoria, where such introductions could be monitored.
VNPA has set up the VicNature2050 alliance with Melbourne University’s Bio2 Institute, La Trobe University, Greening Australia, the Royal Society of Victoria and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Arthur Rylah Institute, to discuss the best ways to manage Victoria’s natural areas under climate change. Visit the website for more information www.VicNature2050.org.
For CSIRO climate predictions for Victoria, go to www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au.