Climate change is reshaping Australia's forests

Friday 22 Mar 2019

Australia’s forests are being reshaped by climate change as droughts, heatwaves, rising temperatures and bushfires drive ecosystems towards collapse, ecologists have told Guardian Australia. Trees are dying, canopies are getting thinner and the rate that plants produce seeds is falling. Ecologists have long predicted that climate change would have major consequences for Australia’s forests. Now they believe those impacts are unfolding.

“The whole thing is unravelling,” says Prof David Bowman, who studies the impacts of climate change and fire on trees at the University of Tasmania. “Most people have no idea that it’s even happening. The system is trying to tell you that if you don’t pay attention then the whole thing will implode. We have to get a grip on climate change.”

According to the 2018 State of the Climate Report, produced by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, large parts of the country are experiencing increases in weather patterns favourable to fires. The report found that rainfall has dropped in the south-east and south-west of the country, temperatures have warmed by an average of 1C, and a “shift to a warmer climate in Australia is accompanied by more extreme daily heat events”.

Dr Joe Fontaine, an ecologist at Murdoch University, says forests across Australia are changing. “Impacts are direct – trees dying from heat and drought – as well as indirect – more fire, fewer seeds and a raft of associated feedbacks.” Fontaine says leaves are the “machinery that makes the plant work” and how those leaves cope with heat depends on moisture reserves. “The question then is, how much do you have in reserve? A lot of us are really concerned about that.”

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Source: The Guardian

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