Flora and Fauna

The South West region is home to flora and fauna species that are unique to the area, many of which are dependent on the natural habitats such as native vegetation, waterways and wetlands. Unfortunately, the region has over 300 species that are classified as threatened in Victoria, with 53 listed threatened at a national scale.

The threats to the region’s flora and fauna are wide and varied, with clearing and fragmenting of existing habitat (e.g. native vegetation), draining of wetlands, changes to environmental flows, environmental weeds and introduced animals, all considered to be highly threatening processes.

Evidence over the past decade has shown that ecological change in response to climate change is unavoidable, that it is happening now and that the impacts will be wide and varied. In some cases, the impacts may be substantial. Many species have evolved over thousands of years and may not have the ability to adapt to what will be a climate that is changing in a relatively short timeframe. 

Climate change will result in shifts in suitable habitat for species, requiring species to move in order to adapt and survive. The ability of species to move in response to climate change depends on their ability to disperse and the availability of suitable habitat. Improved connectivity through the linking up existing remnant vegetation provides communities, species, and therefore genes, with the ability to move throughout the landscape. However, the movement of species is far more difficult to facilitate in coastal areas as species distributions are pushed southward and sea level rise and coastal erosion push northward limiting the available habitat and resulting in ‘coastal squeeze’.

Responses are likely to be species-specific due to complex interactions between changes in rainfall and temperature and the different thermal thresholds of different species. Some species will be more vulnerable than others to extinction. Species may not be able to shift to areas with suitable climatic conditions due to being located in fragmented habitats, or because of their limited dispersal ability. Species with small, isolated or fragmented ranges, or those with low genetic variation and specific thermal requirements, will be more vulnerable and local extinctions are likely. As such, species currently listed as threatened are most vulnerable to extinction. 

To better adapt the region’s biodiversity to climate change, new shifts in how we plan and manage our flora and fauna need to be assessed, and if deemed appropriate, adopted.

CSIRO, through the AdaptNRM program, has recognised this need and as a consequence have developed a number of climate change adaptation tools and resources for regional NRM bodies and NRM planning in general. AdaptNRM sets new directions for assessing the magnitude, extent and type of expected changes in biodiversity under climate change through introducing new modelling approaches and these are explained in more detail on (WEBLINK)

More information on AdaptNRM, including modules, can be found at www.AdaptNRM.org.