20.6 C
Byron Shire
December 2, 2021

Mega biodiversity loss from mega drought

Latest News

A disappointed dog

It’s taken a whole week for my dog to read to page 21 in last week’s Echo. She’s been...

Other News

New Russian satellite-killer produces decades of fallout

‘Irresponsible’ Russian anti-satellite weapon sends shockwaves through space community with 1500 fresh fragments cannoning about in low-Earth orbit.

Coal shame for Queensland and Australian

Local Whitsundays resident Paul Jukes took action this morning against the continued development of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine.

Former Byron Mayor talks about the ‘Green challenge’

It’s not easy being green, it never has been, but we are proud of our long-term commitment to Greens...

Which values are important?

Public opinion sure is divided about the Dunoon Dam (the DuD). Clearly it does not have sufficient social licence...

World record-breaking sailor takes out SCU’s Alumnus of the Year Award

If you’re seeking a bit of inspiration in your life, look no further than Southern Cross University’s Alumnus of the Year, Lisa Blair.

Byron Supper Club

Bryce Hallett The Byron Supper Club is set to return and transport audiences to a magical and exciting realm akin...

The dry riverbed of the Barka (Darling) River at Wilcannia. Photo Tree Faerie.

The east coast is lush and green after regular rainfall through autumn and winter, so it’s easy to forget that much of the interior is still suffering from a devastating drought. The CSIRO are looking to history to help assess this 21st century dry.

Researchers have painstakingly reconstructed the nation’s ‘once in a century drought’ of the early 1900s, revealing that it caused mass ecosystem collapse and dramatic declines in plant and animal populations across more than a third of the continent.

As part of efforts to prepare for and adapt to future droughts, CSIRO ecologists recreated the megadrought through historical records, including the study of tens of thousands of newspaper articles, to build a picture of the event’s effects on the nation published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

CSIRO researcher Dr Robert Godfree said with many of Australia’s landscapes more fragmented and degraded, and species under pressure from invasive plants and animals, a similar drought today could spell disaster on an even more devastating scale.

Australia’s Federation Drought

Australia’s Federation Drought, spanning 1895 to 1903, was one of the world’s worst recorded megadroughts. Much of the country received less than 40 per cent of its average rainfall, and 1902 was the driest year on record.

‘Australia saw widespread economic depression. In New South Wales, most rivers stopped flowing. Dust storms filled dams, buried homesteads and created ghost towns as people fled,’ said Dr Godfree.

‘Wildlife and stock starved or died of thirst. Native birds and mammals died under trees, in creeks, and on the plains. Tens of millions of sheep and cattle were killed, and hundreds of millions of rabbits died of starvation after stripping the landscape of its plant life.’

Ecologists found this megadrought also saw significant effects on Australia’s unique biodiversity.

‘The Federation Drought had the biggest documented impact on plants and animals across a continent yet studied,’ said Dr Godfree.

‘In Australia, more than 60 bird, fish, mammal, reptile, and plant genera were severely affected across 2.8 million km2 or more than a third of Australia.

‘Herbivores, grain-eating birds, fish and plants were most vulnerable, while predators who could feed on dead animals and other groups like waterbirds who could travel long distances were less impacted.’

The reconstruction relied on the study of historical newspaper articles over an expanded time period around the drought, sourced from the National Library of Australia.

37,000 historical newspaper articles read

‘Of the 37,000 newspaper articles we read, over 1,500 referred to the drought and more than 400 provided information about local impacts on native and animals or plants,’ said Dr Godfree.

‘We overlaid this with historical rainfall records and travelled to severely impacted areas, many of which still show effects of the drought to this day.

‘We were also able to use resources from CSIRO’s National Research Collections Australia to determine what was impacted and where.

Dr Godfree said the historic study provides lessons for the possible future impacts of droughts on biodiversity, and shows megadroughts can be potent drivers of rapid, macro-scale ecosystem degradation and collapse.

‘CSIRO is tacking the great challenges, such as drought, through innovative science and technology.

‘In the future, we hope to be able to determine whether a location is at immediate risk of biodiversity loss during extreme drought and take action to prevent it.

‘We’re looking to do this through reviewing recent rainfall data and using this to determine which areas, but also which ecosystems and species are on the brink of decline. These are complex systems these changes can occur suddenly.

‘Right now, we need to focus on building resilience to drought by maintaining healthy ecosystems as an insurance against future drought impacts.’


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Realistic, local agendas!

On Saturday 4 December we need to vote for people who focus on issues that can be controlled by Council. Candidates claiming they can,...

Coal shame for Queensland and Australian

Local Whitsundays resident Paul Jukes took action this morning against the continued development of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine.

Wilsons River flood peak and flooding not expected for Tweed, Rouse, Brunswick River catchments

The prediction provided by the Bureau of Meteorology expects that locals around the Wilsons River at Lismore will see the river peak this afternoon at 4.20m. However, ‘Flooding is no longer expected in the Tweed, Rouse, Brunswick River catchments.

Vote for community

From 2007 to 2020, I lived in Byron Bay. I worked as a community-based coastal and marine researcher and writer. I wrote about this...