Ecological Climate Change Classification for South Australia

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This week’s featured research article has just been published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of SA and develops an ecological climate change classification for South Australia. Temperatures in South Australia have risen 0.5–1.5°C post-1950, a trend expected to drive ecological change. However, climate sensitivity, landscape resilience and management priorities vary among regions. The researchers classified the vulnerability of South Australian plant assemblages to climate change in a framework that combines climate sensitivity and resilience. Generalised Dissimilarity Models (GDMs) of plant species composition were trained with species occurrence records from field plots. Resilience was represented by the proportional remnancy of native vegetation surrounding each location. Landscapes were classified using bivariate quantiles. Mean annual rainfall, summer maximum temperatures and spatial structure were important predictors of species turnover. GDMs (explaining 37–68% of deviance) were projected onto future climate scenarios to calculate sensitivity metrics. The Wheat Belt, mallee and Flinders Ranges were the most sensitive, representing a climatic transition characterised by rapid change in species assemblages. Southern Eyre Peninsula and western Kangaroo Island were classified as Resilient; the Mount Lofty Ranges, southern Flinders Ranges and eastern Kangaroo Island as Resistant; northern Eyre Peninsula and northern Flinders Ranges as Sensitive; and the Wheat Belt as Susceptible. The ecological climate change classification is a coarse-resolution guide to adaptation planning. For example, it provides an evidence-base for the relative importance of conservative versus predictive restoration strategies, with regard to provenance and species selection, in different regions. The researchers conclude that for the regions mapped as “susceptible”, where high climate sensitivity coincides with low landscape resilience, restoration is clearly a high priority and is more likely to benefit from predictive species and provenance selection, while assisted migration may be considered in high velocity landscapes. The paper can be downloaded here (or email jennie.fluin@sa.gov.au for a copy).