Outback to the future

Grey nomads of the future will be travelling in a very different Australia than the one we know today.

Indeed, a new CSIRO study says that, within decades, this country’s landscape will have changed so dramatically that some of it could be virtually unrecognisable. The report into the effects of climate change on biodiversity says totally new environments will emerge while others will vanish. There is likely to be a decline in the area of environments that now favour trees, and an increase in more arid environments favouring open woodlands, chenopod shrublands and grasslands.

By 2030, climate change stress on our natural environments is predicted to be significant. By 2070, the impacts will be more widespread and, in many places, extreme. The report indicates that while the changes will affect most of Australia, the impact will be greatest in the north.

“Many of the environments our plants and animals currently exist in will disappear from the continent,” said lead researcher Dr Michael Dunlop, from the CSIRO’s Ecosystem Sciences division. “Our grandchildren are likely to experience landscapes that are very different to the ones we have known.”

The bush will look, smell and sound very different 50 years from now. As well as experiencing higher temperatures, many habitats will be drier and prone to more frequent fires.

The CSIRO says conserving Australia’s environment as it is today will become impossible as the world warms, so governments should instead focus on managing environments as they change.

“If future generations want to experience and enjoy our distinctive plants and animals and the wonders of the Australian bush, then we need to give biodiversity the greatest opportunity to adapt naturally in a changing and variable environment rather than trying to prevent ecological change,” Dr Dunlop said.

The CSIRO suggests the species-by-species protection approach will be more difficult to manage with a dramatic rise in the number of species vulnerable to extinction. Instead, it says, it could be a matter of  ‘conserve the stage not the actors’.

Protected natural areas such as national parks are expected to continue to play a key role in biodiversity conservation, but conserving habitat on private land will also become increasingly important.

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