Deporting Plants and Animals to Protect Them from Climate Change

Scientific American, 17th July

As San Diego and Los Angeles have grown, the scrub land of southern California has been paved and built over. That has squeezed out the Quino checkerspot butterfly’s habitat, and with the climate changes coming as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions, its listing as an endangered species by the U.S. government may not be enough to save the pretty little butterfly from extinction.

But a group of biologists suggest in this week’s Science that simply moving the butterfly into similar habitat in nearby mountain ranges might solve the problem by overcoming the unnatural barriers humans have erected in the path of any potential shift in its natural range to follow such changing conditions. They call the idea "assisted colonization."

"Humans have dominated the landscape to such an extent that natural dispersal cannot take place in many areas," says biologist Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas at Austin, who helped craft the proposal. "It is in those cases that assisted colonization makes the most sense—use it on species that would have been able to do it on their own, if not for humans."

Specifically, Parmesan and an international group of biologists are proposing moving certain carefully selected species, such as the Quino checkerspot butterfly, as their historic habitats change rapidly because of global warming. They aren’t calling for drastic moves, though. "We are not recommending placing rhino herds in Arizona or polar bears in Antarctica," the group writes, as, for example, the polar bear would then devastate Antarctic penguin and seal populations that have never encountered such a predator. "We are, however, advocating serious consideration of moving populations from areas where species are seriously threatened by climate change to other parts of the same broad biogeographic region," meaning in nearby locations sharing similar ecosystems.

The cost of such an effort is unknown, but could range from nearly free for a small-scale effort such as shifting the Quino a few 100 miles (kilometers) north to multimillion dollar projects such as, for example, moving a monkey species from one cloud forest to another, according to marine biologist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, and lead author of the proposal. Not every potential project makes sense: The researchers offer a list of conditions under which such assisted colonization would be appropriate, including imminent extinction, feasibility and a favorable cost–benefit analysis.

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“One third of coral species face extinction”

The Telegraph, 10th July

One third of the major reef-building coral species are vulnerable to extinction, and the pace of destruction is increasing so it is conceivable that the "rainforests of the ocean" could be wiped out this century.

The warning that coral communities are faring even worse than their terrestrial counterparts, notably tropical rainforests, is given by an international team led by Prof Kent Carpenter, Director of the Global Marine Species Assessment Of Conservation International And The International Union For Conservation Of Nature, IUCN.

Built over millions of years, coral reefs are home to more than 25 percent of marine species, making them the most biologically diverse of marine ecosystems.

The loss of reefs could have huge economic effects on food security for around 500 million people who are dependent on reef fish for food and/or their livelihoods and tourism is also likely to suffer.

"The results of this study are very disconcerting," said Prof Carpenter, lead author of the Science article.

"When corals die off, so do the other plants and animals that depend on coral reefs for food and shelter, and this can lead to the collapse of entire ecosystems."
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"Whether corals actually go extinct this century will depend on the continued severity of climate change, extent of other environmental disturbances, and the ability of corals to adapt," the article concludes.

"Our results emphasize the widespread plight of coral reefs and the urgent need to enact conservation measures."

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So long and thanks for all the fish – A roundup from the ICRS from SeaWeb

Coral Reef News – SeaWeb, July 10th 2008

So, the final, dying embers of the conference to rake over. Dick Dodge kicks things off by saying what a diverse bunch of topics we’ve covered. This symposium has been one of synthesis, he says. Here’s how we’re going to do things over the next couple of hours…

Each Mini-Symposium chair has submitted a report. Nancy Barron is going to explain more.

The goal today, she tells us, is to make this fast food… er, fun. She emailed the idea through to her “victims” and got this from Steve Palumbi. “One,” he replied. “This is an amazing thing to do. Two, this is an impossible thing to do. Since one is more important than two, let’s do it.”

SP gets up and talks about this being the coral reef Olympics. Sure is, Steve.

Oh no. They’ve each got four minutes to explain. Pity me, dear reader…

First, NB talks about how many stories from the conference have been picked up by the press elsewhere. There’s been some good stuff coming out of here. Arghh. NANCY! You’ve done it again. We’ve all got to stand up and take a bow. You won’t get a third chance.

Wow! There’s been some excellent news coverage. Well done guys. We get to listen to John Neilsen’s NPR piece. Top work, as ever. Especially as he wasn’t even here! What a star.

Now for the SuperChairs…

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Coral reef deaths bring bleak outlook – The Age

10th July, The Age

Food supplies will run short, tourism will be hit and coastal communities affected as the world’s coral reefs gradually decline under climate change, scientists say.

The reefs already were dying at an increasing rate because of global warming and acidification of the oceans, said researchers meeting this week at the International Coral Research Symposium (ICRS) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Chair of the climate change session, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg (Ove Hoegh-Guldberg) of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Townsville, said there was evidence that all coral reefs were in trouble.

“The evidence suggests reef systems are becoming more brittle, as a result of bleaching, disease and the effects of acidifying water,” he said on Thursday.

“This means we are likely to see more moonscape-like areas where reefs once used to be.

“This will be accompanied by a switch from the spectacularly colourful fish that people normally associate with reefs to much fewer and plainer ones.”

Prof Hoegh-Guldberg said around 500 million people, mainly in developing countries, depended on coral reefs for food and their livelihoods and developed countries used them as a tourism drawcard.

But weakened coral would no longer provide enough protection against the threat of storm surges and tsunamis, particularly with rising sea levels.

“This will be accompanied by murkier, less productive waters as water quality suffers.”

Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said researchers had found evidence that the rate at which coral reefs have been deteriorating and disappearing had accelerated in the past five years.

“For the past 30 years, the loss has been between one to two per cent of the world’s coral per year,” he said.

“The latest data suggest that the rate is now around two per cent a year. This doesn’t give us much time.

“If we continue on the pathway that we are on right now, we get to levels where you are looking at the total loss of reef structures worldwide.”

Urgent action was needed to cap the use of oil, gas and coal contributing to global warming, he said.

“With no other solutions in front of us, then it would be foolhardy and unethical for us not to consider these urgent actions.”

‘Disturbing’ drought report released

The report says extreme temperature incidents will occur every one to two years. (Getty Images: Ian Waldie, file photo)ABC News, 6th July.

The Federal Government has released a report into the link between drought and climate change, which it says will trigger major review of drought policy.

The report is by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO and is the first of three commissioned by the Government.

The report warns that extreme conditions previously thought to occur once in every 20 to 25 years, could become as frequent as every one or two years.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has told ABC1’s Insiders the report paints a very disturbing picture about the future of droughts in Australia.

"When it comes to exceptional or extreme drought, exceptionally high temperatures, the historical assumption that this occurred once every 20 years has now been revised down to between every one and two years," he said. Continue reading

“Garnaut report sparks call to arms for at-risk Barrier Reef”

ABC News, 5th July

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says it accepts the findings of the Garnaut report on the impact of climate change on the reef.

The report found if carbon emissions are not reduced, the reef could die within decades.

The Authority’s Russel Reichelt says governments and industry must take strong action to protect the reef.

He says the Garnaut report relied on 15 years of scientific research into global warming.

"It’s also relying on the forecast from the inter-governmental panel on climate change, which have painted a range of futures, but even the rosiest future causes me great concern that the reef will be severely damaged within 20 to 40 years," he said.

The Queensland Tourism Industry Council also accepts the report’s findings.

Chief executive Daniel Gschwind says a report delivered four years ago showed carbon emissions could kill the reef.

He says the reef is worth about $5 billion annually and must be protected.

"We’re very conscious of the role that tourism plays and the effect it could have on tourism if we don’t do the right thing, so it is a very important issue for our industry, it’s an industry that is all based on conservation and nature," he said.

"We will certainly study the report with some interest."

The Garnaut report: What does it really mean for Australia?

Main points of the Garnaut Report (from The Australian, 4th July 2008)
• By 2050, unmitigated climate change on middle of the road outcomes would mean major declines in agricultural production across much of the country, including a 50 per cent reduction in irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin.• By 2100, irrigated agriculture in the Murray Darling Basin would decline by 92 per cent.

• Early economic modelling results of readily measurable unmitigated climate change for middle of the road outcomes on temperatures and decline in rainfall – indicate that climate change would wipe off around 4.8 per cent of Australia’s projected GDP, around 5.4 per cent of projected household consumption, and 7.8 per cent from real wages by 2100.

• Professor Garnaut says: “Australia would be hurt more than other developed countries by unmitigated climate change, and we therefore have an interest in encouraging the strongest feasible global effort. We are running out of time for effective global action, and it is important that we play our full part in nurturing the remaining chance.”

• Prof. Garnaut reiterates his support for an emissions trading scheme to cover as many sectors as practicable.

• The Draft Report advocates the full auctioning of emissions permits and the return of all revenue to households and business.

• The Report proposes that half the proceeds from the sale of all permits is allocated to households, around 30 per cent provided for structural adjustment needs for business (including any payments to TEEIIs), and the remaining 20 per cent allocated to research and development and the commercialisation of new technologies.

• The Draft Report states that it would be in Australia’s interest to find out as soon as possible whether there can be a low-emissions future for coal, and to support rapid deployment of commercially promising technologies.

• Professor Garnaut said that he supported the phase-out of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, once the unconstrained ETS was fully operational.

“Cut taxes to soften climate pain: Garnaut report” – The Australian

The Australian, 4th July

TAX cuts and welfare reform should be offered to dampen the impact of a new emissions trading scheme, according to the landmark Garnaut climate change report released today.

Kevin Rudd’s chief climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has today urged the Government to pass on the lion’s share of revenue raised through the new scheme, which will put a price on carbon emissions when it starts in 2010.

He also warns some of Australia’s most celebrated tourist destinations and natural wonders – including the Great Barrier Reef and the wetlands of Kakadu in the Northern Territory – could be lost if action is not taken.

The report paints a bleak picture of the international community’s failure to take earlier action on climate change, warning the development of global pacts to create a more level playing field for key Australian industries is an “urgent matter”.

While Professor Garnaut is fighting for the broadest possible ETS, covering as many industries as possible, he also concedes rising petrol prices are already having an impact on consumer behaviour.

Amid warnings that Mr Rudd’s 2010 timetable for a new trading scheme is a mission impossible, his report also concedes that “much anxiety” was expressed about the possibility of an unconstrained ETS generating high and unstable prices in the early years.

“While there are substantial advantages in moving directly to the unconstrained operation of the proposed emissions trading scheme in 2010, the review accepts there is a legitimate second best case for a fixed price for permits in the early years,” he states.

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Off to the ICRS

Our lab are off to the ICRS Symposium in Ft Lauderdale, Florida – the worlds largest gathering of coral reef scientists – over 2,500 presentations from 114 different countries in 5 days! I will be writing with updates from the conference over the next week:


USNewswire, 17th June

The world’s leading coral reef science conference, the 11th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS), begins Monday, July 7 in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Held once every four years, the ICRS brings more than 2,500 international scientists, policy makers, managers, and conservationists together to present the latest findings on coral reef science and management. Reports will be announced on topics including the emerging link between climate change, ocean acidification and coral reef health; diseases affecting coral reefs around the world; recovery of coral reef ecosystems following bleaching episodes; and the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas.

  • Sanctioned by the International Society for Reef Studies, the largest society focused on coral reefs worldwide.
  • Hosted by the US Coral Reef Task Force and the state of Florida. Chair organization by Hidden List
  • Nova Southeastern University of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, home of the United States’ National Coral Reef Institute.
  • Occurs during the 2008 International Year of the Reef.