We're living through a time of unprecedented climate change. Atmospheric levels of CO2 are the highest they've ever been in recorded history. Temperatures are rising across the globe. Seasons are changing and ecosystems being disrupted. The science is in. Our focus now is on mitigating the impacts on our fragile natural systems.
Here are some of the ways Bush Heritage and our supporters are working towards this.
As a conservation organisation, we need to do more of what we’ve already been doing. That is, setting aside land for conservation, focusing on landscape-scale solutions that provide connected habitat corridors for native species to move freely in response to changing conditions.
As conditions alter, the ability to move freely through the landscape in search of more favourable conditions will be vital for the survival of many species. Unfortunately land clearing for agriculture and development has left many isolated pockets of remnant habitat. Our focus has always been connectivity (in fact this is a major theme of our scientific research). We aim to acquire or help manage land adjacent to other conservation areas and to connect up habitat pockets.
We’ve also been participants in large scale partnerships such as the ambitious Gondwana Link project aiming to connect up remnants of native vegetation over a 1,000km stretch of south-west WA, and the Kosciuszko to Coast project aiming for similar connectivity in NSW.
Altogether our reserve and partnership properties connect with National Parks and other conservation reserves to contribute towards 80.9 million hectares of connected natural landscapes.
Revegetating cleared land is a big part of reconnecting remnant habitats and helps to sequester carbon. We have runs on the board with successful revegetation work in south-west WA at our Monjebup reserves, and ongoing revegetation at Scottsdale near Canberra.
We are currently working with the Carbon Neutral Charitable Fund (CNCF), a not-for-profit that specialises in high-quality, biodiverse revegetation on our biggest revegetation project to date – a 1,350 hectare area in which over a million trees and shrubs will be planted.
If we can see them through until fully grown, this new vegetation will offset at least 90,000 tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of taking more than 21,000 cars off the road each year.
This mammoth task in Western Australia will help re-establish York gum (Eucalyptus loxophleba) woodlands and melaleuca, helping provide habitat for species in decline such as the Red-tailed Black Cockatoo and vulnerable Malleefowl.
Habitat refuge research
Spatial ecologist Dr April Reside has painstakingly mapped out a model predicting how, by the year 2085, climate change will have affected the distribution of more than 1,700 native vertebrate species. Her conclusion was that as rainfall and temperature patterns change, some areas will be better able to support animals than others. It identified the Einsleigh Uplands in far North Queensland as one of the most important areas for habitat refuge in the state – which amplifies the importance of our Yourka Reserve.
Similarly, ongoing research into habitat refuge areas is a key theme of our Science Plan. Knowing where species may retreat or shift to under climate change becomes increasingly important for combating biodiversity loss and species decline.
One example is a study on the spawning habits and critical survival areas for Macquarie Perch on the Upper Murrumbidgee River. Fish are tagged and a network of listening stations installed along stretches of the river track their seasonal movements to help us better understand their responses to the environment and how best to protect them.
Climate change research
Bush Heritage has researched the future climates projected for all our priority areas. We're now examining the implications of these projections for the habitats and species we protect and for the safety of staff working in hotter, more fire-prone conditions. This analysis will guide our planning and investment into the future.
A long-term (30-year) study on the effects of climate change at our Charles Darwin Reserve in Western Australia, is expected to provide unprecedented data for modelling and informing conservation work. The Conservation Council of Western Australia has set up a climate change observatory
The observatory itself consists of an automatic weather station that will monitor changes in temperature, rainfall and solar radiation over time; the project also includes ongoing biodiversity surveys at monitoring points across the reserve.
With external factors like weeds, feral animals and other threats to biodiversity minimised, we're more likely to see clearly the results of climate change.
At the moment very little of the published research on the impact of climate change on biodiversity is from the Southern hemisphere.
Why Charles Darwin Reserve? It lies on a boundary between the south-western wheat belt and the arid zone, so many plant and animal species found here are at the edge of their distribution and particularly vulnerable to the effects of change.
Trialling innovative solutions
In addition to studying the impacts of climate change, sometimes the disruption of our existing natural areas requires direct intervention. At Nardoo Hills in central Victoria, dieback of Grey Box and Yellow Box woodlands, in response to a hotter drier climate, has fuelled the need for an innovative response.
Together with Greenfleet we’ve run a restoration trial to provide long-term guidance on viable, climate-ready eucalypt revegetation options for Nardoo Hills and the region. We initially used the Bureau of Meteorology’s Climate Analogues tool to pinpoint regions currently experiencing a climate similar to that expected at Nardoo Hills in 30-70 years’ time. Such a long-term outlook was needed if the trees were to persist for at least 70 years.
We then identified regions that also had records of reasonable populations of Grey Box and/or Yellow Box: Quorn SA, Griffith NSW and Condobolin NSW. We also chose two provenances from climatically softer analogues (Deniliquin NSW and Wagga NSW) and the local provenance of each species from the Wedderburn/St Arnaud area of Victoria.
Planting this mix of provenances at Nardoo Hills is allowing us to trial whether introducing genetic variants more suited to hotter dryer climates can help us maintain the ecological functioning of important habitats. We also hope that the plants will cross pollinate and so produce new plants with more resilience to hotter conditions.
Long-term ecological monitoring
Of course, our long term ecological monitoring program on all of our reserves and partnership properties allows us to see the effects of our conservation actions, as well as carefully monitor changes in the reserves over time.
As climate change continues to be felt, the data we've been collecting over a long period will stand us in good stead to understand the likely impacts in the landscapes where we work and help us design strategies to ensure ecosystem function is maintained.