For decades, groups, volunteers and landholders in Australia have toiled to connect isolated patches of bushland and, at bigger scales, to increase ecological “connectivity” across entire landscapes: by protecting remnants and planting new patches to form stepping stones, corridors, biolinks, flyways and more.
To keep up with climate change, many species may need to migrate across long distances. Unless they can migrate or inter-breed, plants and animals risk being stranded in places that will become more and more intolerable. Unfortunately, our farms, cities and dammed rivers stop lots of organisms from going anywhere, while their environment changes more and more rapidly.
To help species survive under climate change, we need to create landscapes that help species to move: far and fast. We can do this by linking patches in local areas and by building networks across regions, as demonstrated by big projects like Gondwana Link, Great Southern Landscapes, the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative, Habitat 141 and Wild Eyre.
We can help aquatic animals and plants move along rivers by building fishways over dams and weirs and by directing environmental flows to streams and wetlands.
Shady trees lower the temperature of river waters and river banks on hot, dry days. Rivers and wetlands are important refuges for animals, so wet places are key destinations for climate-ready plantings. We can help animals adapt to a new climate by planting trees that cast shade over rivers and streams and by linking wet places with shady plantings.
The species and genetic varieties that we plant in these linkages must also be suitable in a new climate. The vegetation that grows in an area now, and that grew there in the past, will change as the climate changes; some species will decline, others will become more common, while others will adapt to the new conditions.
We can create ‘climate ready’ plantings by planting species that are most likely to survive in a new climate: including Australian species that now grow in hotter and drier areas. Similarly, when we plant local species that grow across large areas, we can include seed stock from drier and hotter regions of Australia, instead of relying solely on local provenances of local species. This increases the genetic diversity in our plantings, and will give planted populations more chances to adapt to a new climate. Community groups and restoration organisations like Greening Australia are already putting these principles into practice through field experiments called ‘Climate Future Plots‘.
Suggestions to use ‘non-local’ plants should not encourage a ‘free-for-all’ approach when selecting species. Instead, we can promote the regional distinctiveness of every part of Australia by choosing species and seed stocks from nearby areas and by avoiding plants from other countries and distant parts of Australia. More work needs to be done to create lists of ‘climate-ready’ native plants for every region.
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.