Saving species in a changing climate

Humans will need to physically relocate many species to ensure theirsurvival in the face of climate change, University of Queensland-led researchrecommends.

UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences researcher Dr Nathalie Butt saidthat conservationists must seriously consider expanding their speciestranslocation strategy to stop mass extinctions.

“One in six species could become extinct as a result of climate change,” DrButt said.

“And the impacts of climate change, such as increasing temperatures or risingsea levels, mean that some habitats are already becoming unsuitable forspecies.

“We know that at least 40 per cent of amphibian species, 30 per cent of reef-forming coral species, and a third of all marine mammal species are nowthreatened with extinction.

“Many species faced with climate change will not be able to adapt and survivein place – they simply won’t be able move to somewhere more suitable on theirown because of physical barriers, like cities, or being on top of a mountain.

“If we’re going to protect as many species as possible, we’re going to have tointervene.”

One such species is the Mount Claro rock wallaby, endemic to Australia’s GreatDividing Range.

It’s just one of 26 species on the Range projected to lose its habitat due toincreased temperatures.

“The Mount Claro rock-wallaby lives in high, cool areas,” Dr Butt said.

“A lot of its habitat is used by humans for forestry and agriculture, so itwill be difficult for the wallaby to move across these landscapes to higheraltitudes without help.

“Conservation managers need to actively get involved with these rescues, andsoon.

“We can’t simply wait until their habitat is lost.

“A small rodent once found in northern Queensland called the Bramble Caymelomys became the first documented climate change extinction due to risingsea levels.”

Griffith University’s Dr Alienor Chauvenet said the research team wasadvocating for conservationists and policy-makers to reconsider theirstrategies to prevent more climate extinctions.

“While hundreds of articles mention species translocation and assistedmigration as tools to adapt to climate change, it is rarely practiced,” DrChauvenet said.

“Most actions are designed to keep species in their current native locations,with protections applied to their reserves, habitat restorations, tree andvegetation plantings.

“While this is effective and appropriate in many instances, there are plentyof instances where this kind of strategy alone will lead to extinct species.

“There are many barriers to this thinking in the conservation community, suchas the risk of introducing an invasive species, socio-political pushback,getting the timing wrong and a lack of understanding.

“We’re advocating for assisted migrations at small scales, translocatingspecies with little invasion risk, adopting robust monitoring protocols thattrigger an active response, and promoting political and public support.

“If we can change how conservationists approach translocation of species, wemight be able to seriously increase how many animals can survive a climatecatastrophe.”

The research has been published in Conservation Biology (DOI:10.1111/cobi.13643).

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