One of the first detailed looks at the implications of climate change for Queensland’s biodiversity highlights the threat to birds, especially in this Australian state’s south west.
Climate Change and Queensland Biodiversity by ecologist and author Tim Low investigates a wide range of possible climate change effects on Queensland’s terrestrial plants and animals, from mangroves to eucalypts, from skinks to lorikeets and flying foxes.
Commissioned by Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management, the report covers the particularly severe effects possible where droughts and heat waves intensify. Arid-land animals living at their limits for heat may be particularly vulnerable. The threat of further warming is suggested by a major 1932 heat wave. That event killed vast numbers of birds in arid central Australia, including Central Queensland, probably via heat stress. Drought can also kill trees over large areas, leaving wildlife less opportunity to shelter in shade.
Yet species in large, stable rainforest refugia could also be quite vulnerable to heat waves if they lack the physiological or behavioural capacity to cool themselves, the report finds. However, it is difficult to know all the aspects of ecology that make animals vulnerable, so some heat wave deaths will likely be unpredictable.
Unprecedented fires are other extreme events that could prove very harmful under climate change, in those areas of Queensland where fire risk ramps up. A major concern is the additional fire threat posed by invasive African grasses (like gamba grass) that burn readily. Their spread could pose a high risk to biodiversity under climate change. Many African grasses have been imported for use in pastures.
The report also provides management options, including the capacity for refugia and corridors to enhance the survival of some species. It emphasises the role pollinating birds can play in helping eucalypts adapt to climate change by spreading their pollen widely.