Climate change has an impact on biodiversity, but biodiversity also changes the impacts of climate change. In this blog post we will be going over the link between the two and something new the National Parks and other foresters are doing to help with the problems.
Impacts to Biodiversity by Climate Change
Rising temperatures and the results of those higher temperatures impacts biodiversity. Events like wildfires, large storms, and drought all place stress on the plants and animals inhabiting a place. This additional stress can threaten the extinction of the species.
According to the Royal Society, the wildfires in Australia in 2019 may have increased the number of threatened species by 14%. This example illustrates the impact of climate change on biodiversity.
As the temperatures increase and the climate becomes more erratic and extreme, plants and animals that can handle the more extreme weather will be the only species left.
Protecting Against Climate Change Through Increased Biodiversity
At the same time that climate change has an impact on biodiversity, biodiversity has an impact on climate change. Or, more specifically, the effects of climate change.
The EU states, “Healthy ecosystems must lie at the centre of any adaptation policy and can help mitigate climate change impacts, by absorbing excess flood water or buffering us against coastal erosion or extreme weather events. Forests, peatlands and other habitats are major stores of carbon. Protecting them can also help us limit atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.”
High biodiversity lies at the center of the definition of a healthy ecosystem. All of the different types of species are needed to keep the ecosystem running. By having lots of different species that fulfill the different needs in an ecosystem, the overall health is protected.
For example, you have various species that deal with decay of dead matter – bugs, fungi, bacteria, etc. They are important as they send nutrients back into the ecosystem. If one of those gets knocked out, the others still can get their job done.
When an ecosystem is healthy with lots of biodiversity, it is more resilient to the impact of climate change. Even if the changes knock out some species, high biodiversity allows the remaining species to adapt and survive.
Assisted Migration to Combat Impact of Climate Change
One way ecosystems typically maintain biodiversity is through migration of species from other places. The species might change, but the biodiversity and health would stay the same.
Unfortunately, climate change is changing the game. Foresters have started experimenting with bringing in other species to increase the biodiversity of forests, called “assisted migration”.
In Acadia National Park, the forest services worries that warming could cause the iconic evergreen forests to be replaced by invasive shrubs. This has pushed them into more active management of the forests and towards assisted migration.
Abe Miller-Rushing, the science coordinator for Acadia National Park in Maine told NPR, “Typically, in a warming environment like this, we would expect trees from the south, things like oaks and hickories to move up into the park, but the climate is changing faster than those species can keep up with”.
This is truly an experiment, and some are wary of the unknown consequences. Could they bring in diseases to new areas? In the past, a hands off management of forests has been the preferred method. The National Park Service published a guide for assisted migration to try to mitigate some of the known consequences.