Biodiversity Havens In A Changing Climate
January 14, 2014

Safe Havens Needed For Biodiversity In A Changed Climate

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A new approach to identify potential refugia in declining rainfall environments has been developed by a team of scientists lead by Dr. Tom Schut of Wageningen University. The new technique, described in a recent issue of PLoS ONE, involves Light Detection And Ranging (LiDAR) instruments.

The technique is able to translate a traditional plot observation to the entire landscape. According to Dr. Grant Wardell-Johnson of Curtain University, this enabled the scientists to apply expected future changes in rainfall to landscape-scale vegetation and find potential refugial sites, essential for conservation efforts.

Global warming is a particular issue in Mediterranean-climate regions. It is especially so in the flat landscapes of south-western Australia – home to a global biodiversity hotspot,” Dr. Wardell-Johnson said.

“South-western Australians have been living through the impacts of a drying climate for more than 40 years and are bracing for a continuing drier and warmer trend. Understanding where refugia will be is of particular importance in light of human-caused global warming, to offer the best chances for our precious flora and fauna in times of transformative change.”

The team used 13-foot by 13-foot plot-based data of vegetation profiles on and around granite outcrops located across southwestern Australia to relate vegetation types to soil depth and rainfall. This revealed a very strong relationship between all three.

The team was able to use this data to compare current climate and future climate under a continuing trend of reduced rainfall in the region. Very large shifts in vegetation structure were predicted and mapped for future climates, according to Dr. Wardell-Johnson, with the greatest changes expected to happen in the highest rainfall regions.

“We found it very likely that some refugia will be found in sites receiving greatest water run-off below granite outcrops, as well as areas where a reduction in rainfall is offset by deeper soil,” Dr. Wardell-Johnson said.