95th ESA Annual Meeting (August 1 -- 6, 2010)

OOS 36-2 - Biodiversity conservation under climate change: Ecological principles underpin a national approach in Australia

Wednesday, August 4, 2010: 1:50 PM
401-402, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Patricia A. Werner and Will Steffen, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Climate change acts as a new and complex stressor on all levels of biodiversity from genes to ecosystems. It interacts with a large number of historical and existing stressors such as habitat loss and invasive species. The Australian government, through its Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, commissioned an independent expert advisory group (EAG) to assess the vulnerability of and potential for adaptation by Australia’s biota to a changing climate. The assessment drew on international and Australian peer-reviewed published research, on-going research projects, information provided by Australian experts in discussions and at several national workshops, and reviews of the implications of climate change on specific topics such as fire, marine and coastal systems, invasive species, and the national reserve system.


Ten ecological principles relating to the responses of biota to environmental change were identified by the EAC and then used as a basis for the assessment. This approach was adopted because of the naturally high degree of uncertainty surrounding specific climate scenarios at regional and local scales and the paucity of research on indirect effects in communities and ecosystems requires a consistent and rigorous ecologically-based framework for analysis. Concepts such as resilience and transformation provide positive, pro-active avenues for reducing the vulnerability of biodiversity to climate change. The focus is on making space and opportunities for species to adapt and for communities and ecosystems to reorganize, as well as on the maintenance of fundamental ecological processes that underpin vital ecosystem services.

In practice, application of the ecological principles requires special attention to key species and processes, adaptive management, systematic regional approaches to biodiversity conservation that build on existing and projected socio-economic trends, and integrated responses among governance, education, and investment sources. Currently, various common approaches to biodiversity conservation embedded in policy, practice, and law, incorporate from only a few to many of the ecological principles. Societal (governmental, policy, institutional) changes are required. Further, adaptation and mitigation cannot be separated–without early, vigorous and ongoing climate mitigation, even the best adaptation measures in support of biodiversity conservation can be overwhelmed by extreme climate change, leading to higher rates of biodiversity loss in the coming decades and centuries. The new national strategy for biodiversity conservation (2010–2020) deals with a number of stressors on Australian biodiversity and is consistent with the EAG work, having as its main focus the task of increasing ecological resilience in the face of climate change.