Biodiversity refers to the variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem, biome, or entire planet. It is a measure of the health of an ecosystem, and is in part a function of climate. For example, even very subtle shifts in temperature can adversely effect species within a particular ecosystem, causing mass migration or mass extinction.
Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on Earth. It is home to a rich array of plants and animals, including about one million different native species, as well as the world’s largest coral reef system. Unfortunately, Australia also has one of the largest documented declines in biodiversity of any continent over the past 200 years. In addition, it is typically cited as being one of the countries most at risk from climate change.
Warmer sea surface temperatures, for example, can cause coral bleaching, which can in turn impact coral growth and make coral more vulnerable to disease. In 1998 and 2002, major bleaching events occurred in parts of the Great Barrier Reef, causing a significant die-off of corals in some locations.
Major rainfall changes can also have detrimental effects on the health of an ecosystem. As Australia is a dry continent, its plant and animal life has adapted to more drought-like conditions. Shifts in water quality and quantity could therefore have a major impact on the natural environment in many regions.
Biodiversity hotspots are regions with a high level of endemic species (species that are unique to a given region). While hotspots are spread all over the world, the majority are forest areas and most are located in the tropics, such as are found in northern Australia.
Land use, as well as climate change, can significantly impact biodiversity in a given region. For example, the way we use the land for farming and residential purposes has a major impact on biodiversity. Some scientists therefore believe more focus should be placed on creating solutions for how to best manage farmland and residential land for sustainability and ongoing biodiversity, rather than placing the majority of emphasis on creating protected land areas such as national parks. In Australia, nearly two-thirds of the land is pastoral or agricultural.
While in Australia, the Earthducation team will experience a diverse range of ecosystems, as they travel from the temperate and highly urbanized state of New South Wales, to the sparsely populated wet-dry tropics of the Top End of the Northern Territory, to the highly touristed rainforest and reef communities of the northern Queensland coast. They will also have the unique opportunity to visit some beef producers in the interior of Queensland who are studying ways to manage rangelands and cattle production in more sustainable ways. The team will thus be introduced to a host of Australia’s biodiverse treasures, while learning from individuals and communities in wide-ranging natural environments how this biodiversity might be sustained over time.
Arnehm Land, Australia: Fighting Fire with Carbon is a short video about the effects of climate change on indigenous people managing a dry savannah zone in Arnehm Land, NT. Fire has been used by Bininj (Aboriginal) people for managing habitats and food resources across northern Australian over millennia. The secret of fire in their traditional knowledge is that it is a thing that brings the land alive again.