Ancient refuges could be key to saving biodiversity under threat from climate change

Published: Saturday, May 30, 2009, 15:06 [IST]
 

Sydney, May 30 (ANI): Australian researchers have said that ancient refuges could be the key to saving the country's unique biodiversity under threat from climate change.

According to a report by ABC News, the researchers are mapping areas they believe could remain untouched, despite climate change, in an effort to save species from extinction.

Areas known as refugia have helped preserve biodiversity during previous periods of major climate change, and could once again in the future, according to Associate Professor Stephen Williams, director of the Centre for Tropical Biodiversity and Climate Change at James Cook University in Townsville.

Experts believe refugia helped save species such the Wollemi Pine, whose ancestry dates back 200 million years.

The Wollemi Pine, which only numbers several hundred in the wild, was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1994 in a deep, narrow canyon near Lithgow, 150 kilometres west of Sydney.

Williams and colleagues are attempting to map past and possible future refugia in the Wet Tropics region, north of Cairns.

Williams said that the map will help authorities identify areas that should be actively managed for species to retreat to as temperatures increases.

"It is hoped by maintaining these areas not as many of Australia's rare tropical animals and plants will become extinct due to climate change," said Williams.

According to Professor Ary Hoffman of the University of Melbourne, mapping refugia across Australia is "something we need to do urgently" in response to the threat of climate change.

"If we can identify where refugia have been in the past, that is where they are also likely to be in the future, so it can be a criteria for establishing new parks and reserves," he said.

Williams said that their work not only involves mapping past refuges, but also predicting areas that will act as refugia in the future.

For the map, Williams and colleagues have looked at the current distribution of the 200-odd species of vertebrate and predicted their distribution under climate change.

He said that modelling shows these refugia might protect up to 75 percent of species in that area.

"Lots of species that would be predicted to disappear entirely, might survive in very small numbers in these refugia," he said.

Refugia is not a long-term option, but may keep species alive long enough "for the world to come to its senses," according to Williams.

"If we can identify areas that are most likely to be valuable as a future refuge it gives us a map of where we should be putting our conservation efforts," he said. (ANI)


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