In 2013, many regenerating stands of Alpine Ash in Victoria’s Alpine National Park were killed by repeated wildfires over 10 years. The young trees had no seed capsules and did not resprout; most trees died and few seedlings replaced them.
To replace the dead stands, Alpine Ash seeds were aerially sown over 1,800 hectares. If these stands continue to be burnt in repeated fires, seeds will have to be sown again. At that time, should we sow Alpine Ash or another eucalypt that can resprout after wildfires, or perhaps a mix?
As climate change intensifies, there will be more days of extreme fire weather. For this reason, many areas are expected to become less suitable for Alpine Ash, and for other species. The burnt stands of Alpine Ash highlight a dilemma that we and our children will face more and more often as climate change intensifies.
To what extent should we try to save the species and ecosystems that currently occur in a particular area, and at what stage should we accept, or even assist, new plants and animals that are more suited to the new climate?
There are many things we can all do to help nature adapt to a new climate, but there are limits. As climate change intensifies, we will have no choice but to accept more changes in natural areas than we are accustomed to, or – if we choose to prevent changes – to accept more interventions. Ultimately, both options may catalyse new ways of thinking and working.
To suggest that we will need to “accept” more changes in natural areas does not imply that we should try to “like” these changes. We may not. Yet, we cannot disparage the new native species and altered natural areas that flourish under the new climate.
Our children will enjoy altered natural areas, like the forests of the Central Highlands, for many of the reasons that we do: as places to seek respite, holiday with friends and family, and enjoy nature. Even though those places have changed.
By accepting that natural areas will continue to change under a new climate, by intervening to curtail the changes we do not accept, and by respecting altered ecosystems as they adapt to the new climate, we ensure we do not devalue the natural places that our children and grandchildren will cherish, love and work to conserve.
This content is adapted with permission from text written by Dr Ian Lunt for the VicNature2050 booklet 10 things we can all do to help nature adapt to a new climate.
VicNature2050 was organised by the Victorian National Parks Association, The Royal Society of Victoria and The University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute, and supported by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria.
Other organisations who have participated in the VicNature2050 partnership include La Trobe University; Deakin University; Greening Australia; and the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.