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Australia’s freshwater ecosystems threatened by climate change

Australia’s freshwater ecosystems threatened by climate change

Australia’s freshwater ecosystems threatened by climate change
Rhett A. Butler,
November 16, 2005

Australia’s freshwater ecosystems are increasingly under threat from global warmning and expanding human population according to an interview of an Australian academic by The Age.

Stuart Bunn of Griffith University told The Age that warmer climate could drive many freshwater species to extinction due to warmer temperatures and habitat destruction caused by rising sea levels — which will inundate low elevation rivers, wetlands and creeks — and drier weather.

Of even bigger concern, according to Bunn, is the human response to climate change.

“As the climate heats up and water becomes more important because it is dry, the demand from humans will go up,” said Bunn to The Age. “As they try to drought-proof their cities, they will build more dams, which impedes the movement of the freshwater systems, and more water for agriculture will be needed to produce crops for an increasing population.”

Global freshwater biodiversity is highly threatened today. A Malaysian study found fewer than half of the 266 resident fish species, while more than 30% of Singapore’s fish species are thought to be extinct. Freshwater biodiversity is highly vulnerable. Habitats tend to be largely discontinuous meaning species cannot easily cross land barriers that separate lakes and watersheds. Thus freshwater fauna is generally localized, static, and subject changing conditions. Whereas terrestrial species simply migrate in response to habitat changes, freshwater species must cope with ecological and climatic changes in order to persist.

A creek in the Daintree rainforest of Australia. Climate change threatens such habitats with higher temperatures and more extreme water levels.

Freshwater habitats are facing an onslaught of threats from deforestation, waterway modification and dam construction, the introduction exotic species, pollution, and over-exploitation.

This article used information from The Age

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