The World Parks Congress, held in Sydney 12-19th was a large (>5000 delegates) and diverse gathering of conservation scientists, practitioners, activists and politicians from around the world. Eight streams spanned conservation goals, climate change, health and well-being, development, governance, indigenous and traditional knowledge and culture, and inspiring new generations. I mostly stuck to sessions on climate change, as is my field, so can report on “Climate change through the lens of the World Parks Congress 2014”.

Representatives from the South Pacific set the scene for the gravity of climate change and its consequences: the opening plenaries had Presidents & Prime Minister of Palau, Kiribati and the Cook Islands giving impassioned pleas to the world. The take home message was: “Don’t wait for other nations to take action before following suit: we are all in the same canoe.” Further passionate messages were delivered by the Mua Voyage, who sailed from the Pacific Islands to the Congress to bring their plight to the world.

I spoke in the “Responding to climate change: connectivity initiatives” session, accompanied by leaders in climate change science such as Lesley Hughes and Ary Hoffman; as well as practitioners from around the world including the UK, central Europe, Nepal, the East Asian-Australasian Flyway and Mexico. Theoretical issues to do with connectivity metrics and species adaptation including genetic adaptation were covered; as well as practical applications of connecting protected areas and biomes.

It is inspiring to see the breadth of involvement in climate change science and practice around the world; hopefully the congress inspired many and brought conservation to the forefront of global action.

Abstract: Connectivity & Refugia
April E Reside, Cassie S James, Jeremy VanDerWal, Bob Pressey and Steve Turton

Refugia from severe climate change are highlighted as crucial for species conservation in the future. However, refugia are only useful when accessible to species. The ability of species to reach refugia, which depends on the species’ dispersal capability as well as the structure of the landscape to be traversed, is one of the major factors determining the likely success of refugia. We conducted analyses of future refugia across continental Australia for over 1600 terrestrial vertebrates and 350 freshwater species. We found high-elevation areas to be important for both terrestrial and freshwater species, because upland areas provide species the opportunity to track their climatic niche across relatively small distances. However, species currently confined to the highest elevations are unlikely to have areas of analogous climate for hundreds of kilometres and, to reach refugia, would have to cross tracts of unsuitable habitat. Species confined to the Victorian and NSW Alps are predicted to have no analogous climate space on mainland Australia by 2085 under an extreme climate change scenario. The east coast of Australia is likely to harbour a high proportion of the refugial areas in the future; many of the terrestrial areas of high refugial value in the future intersect with the current protected area system. However, large tracts of high-value refugia predicted to be highly suitable for many species are currently outside protected areas, particularly for riverine freshwaters which are poorly represented within the current reserve system. This research highlights that, where species can disperse, distances are feasible and refugia exist, increasing connectivity will be paramount for species conservation. However, for species with poor dispersal abilities and climatic niches shifting large distances, simply providing connected habitats might be insufficient to ensure species persistence under extreme climate change. Moreover, species with poor dispersal abilities might be disadvantaged by connected habitats by having to compete with an influx of other species while facing decreased habitat suitability. Furthermore, connectivity is unlikely to be useful for species without suitable climate space in the future.

Leave a Reply