The Millennium Drought hit birds hard. Many birds died and, unfortunately, many species did not fully recover in the wet years that followed. Luckily, birds fared better in some places than others: more birds survived in places that had lots of trees, especially where there were trees along rivers and streams.
What can we learn from these birds? Two things. First, climate change will not affect plants and animals in a direct, straight-forward way. Species will not simply die out or migrate to cooler areas. Instead, they will be affected by many, many factors, including how many trees there are along rivers and streams. And many changes will be very hard to predict; even if they do seem obvious in retrospect.
The second lesson is: long-term monitoring is really important. We now know how severe droughts affect birds because researchers and volunteers went out and recorded birds in the same areas over and over again. Without long-term data, we cannot see, and we cannot hope to influence, the many ways that plants and animals will respond to a new climate.
We knew we needed more long-term monitoring long before climate change was apparent. Climate change makes this need even greater. We need information to make sure we don’t lose things without knowing it – especially “the little things that run the world”, the soil micro-organisms, invertebrates and fungi.
The more we know about how things change, the more we can anticipate future changes, and the faster we can act to reduce losses. Information gives us the power to take action to save species and natural communities.
Over a single week in October 2020, more than 108,000 Australians counted more than 4.6 million birds in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count. No single research project could ever collect this much information.
We can all collect important data on plants and animals. The Backyard Bird Count and projects like FungiMap, Red Map (for marine organisms), NatureWatch and the Atlas of Living Australia collate millions of observations from enthusiastic citizen scientists.
Every observation adds to our knowledge of nature. Fantastic citizen science projects like these keep us engaged with nature and provide vital information on how plants and animals are adapting to a changing world.
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.