Evidence about the impact of climate change on our country’s distinct flora and fauna is beginning to emerge. This is not ‘new’ news, this information is already widely available if you care to look for it. What is astonishing is that this growing body of information about the impacts of climate change on the land where we live doesn’t seem to compel more people to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Here are some recent examples of how climate change enhanced fire seasons are impacting on mountain environments:

In Tasmania, research has confirmed the trend towards more extreme fire seasons. It suggests that we reached a ‘tipping point’ sometime around the year 2000 and that, since then, there has been an increase in the number of lightning-caused fires and an increase in the average size of the fires, “resulting in a marked increase in the area burnt”.

As temperatures rise and the world’s climate rapidly changes, many plants and animals may not be able to relocate fast enough on their own, and habitats and species could be lost. In Australia warmer temperatures are expected to increase the length and severity of bushfire seasons, which will also cause changes in the distribution of many mountain species.

For instance, increased fire frequency may lead to the loss of alpine ash forests, unless there is human intervention aimed at keeping the species viable in the wild.

Now, a new article from Professor Ary Hoffmann, Nicholas Bell and Dr James Camac, at the University of Melbourne, looking at how we monitor the impacts of climate change on Australia’s terrestrial ecosystems has additional concerning news.

In the case of mountain environments, here are the take home messages from their work:

Changes in vegetation:

“Climate change is … likely to have a substantial impact on our unique alpine landscapes. Here, a change in the climate is predicted to increase the shrubification – the increased cover, abundance or biomass of shrubs. This would come at the expense of our iconic alpine herbfields and grasslands.

Additionally, an increase in shrubs, coupled with warmer, drier conditions, is expected to increase the frequency and severity of large-scale fires. These fires have not only decimated some populations of Alpine Ash and Snow Gum, but are also expected to further worsen the shrub thickening problem, which in turn exacerbates that reduction in alpine herbfields and grasslands.”

The Mountain Pygmy Possum:

“The Mountain Pygmy-possum is dependent on the annual migration of Bogong Moths – its main food source – which emerge hundreds of kilometres north of the possum’s alpine range. But changing climate conditions and modern farming practices are leading to a sharp decline in moth numbers, which has dire consequences for the survival of the possums over winter”.