Biodiversity node

The Biodiversity Node is led by Macquarie University, in collaboration with leading researchers from nine partner institutions, including CSIRO, Taronga Zoo and the Royal Botanic Gardens. The node focuses on increasing knowledge of the capacity of species, ecosystems and landscapes to adapt to climate variability. Its research identifies refuges where species can survive extreme events and explores how integrated decision-making on local land use can optimise outcomes for biodiversity. Key projects include:

Risk assessment and website development for exotic plants under future climates

Led by Michelle Leishman (Macquarie University) and Paul Downey (University of Canberra)

This completed project has built on prior work modelling non-native plant species under changing climatic conditions in Australia. Its research has contributed substantially to the capacity of natural resource managers to assess weed risk and prioritise exotic species for monitoring and management.

The interactive website Weed Futures as a result of this work. It allows more than 600 weeds to be searched by name or boundary to find out how they are likely to respond to future climate scenarios.

Weed futures

Best practice translocation guidelines for climate-change adaptation in NSW

Led by Rachael Gallagher, Nola Hancock and Lesley Hughes (Macquarie University)

The risks faced by species are expected to rise with the rapid pace of climate change. Many habitats will become increasingly unsuitable, and rates of migration to new ones will be either too slow or too problematic.

The aim of this project was to provide a comprehensive overview of assisted colonisation for climate-change adaptation, along with advice on effectively translocating those species in NSW that might suffer population declines.

This project has released two reports:

In September 2014, a masterclass was held to present the findings of this research. 

Identifying regions of high drought-mortality risk for tree species in NSW

Led by Belinda Medlyn, Linda Beaumont (Macquarie University) and David Tissue (University of Western Sydney)

Severe drought can cause large-scale forest death, transforming landscapes and thus having potentially catastrophic consequences for biodiversity. This project aims to promote conservation planning for key tree species under a range of future climate-change scenarios by quantifying the risk of drought-mortality across NSW.

The project is a collaboration among Macquarie University, the University of Western Sydney and the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and has been awarded Australian Research Council funding.

How does an adaptation lens change the way we invest in landscapes for biodiversity?

Led by Stuart Whitten, Michael Dunlop, Veronica Doerr, Simon Ferrier, Kristen Williams and Russ Wise (CSIRO)

This project considers the likely effects of climate change and urban development on the landscape and, consequently, the uses of land. It examines the consequences for investment in land use and the options for incorporating these consequences into future decision-making processes.

Where to run or hide: identifying likely climate refugia and corridors to support species range shift

Led by Linda Beaumont, Abigail Cabrelli, Belinda Medlyn and Brad Evans (Macquarie University)

The aim of this project is to identify climate refugia and assess the potential for species to track moving climate zones by shifting their distributions. To accomplish this, the project considers barriers to movement, current land-use patterns, landscape connectivity and health, proximity to existing protected areas and species-specific list history traits.

It extends previous studies by incorporating topographically corrected variables, and it considers a range of factors that influence the ability of species to successfully shift their ranges.

Assessing the vulnerability of endangered species and ecosystems to climate change in NSW

Led by Professor Michelle Leishman (Macquarie University)

By examining the NSW Scientific Committee’s final determination for each species and ecological community listed as threatened under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, this project will identify those vulnerable to climate change.

The type of threat can then be classified (e.g. sea-level rise or increased mortality from heat stress), along with the characteristics of the species or ecological community (e.g. taxonomy, habitat).

Species distribution models can then be used to map areas of suitable habitat under current and future climate conditions. The collated information will be available in a searchable web-based tool for biodiversity management (including Saving our Species conservation projects). It will also inform guidelines for reserve acquisition, targeting of species for Australian PlantBank collections, and adaptation priorities.

Delivering ecological range metrics for the entire NSW flora

Led by Professor Michelle Leishman and Stuart Allen (Macquarie University)

Basic metrics of plant ecological range (e.g. size, climate/soil, niche breadth) are routinely used to assess the vulnerability of species to human activity and particularly to climate change. However, NSW currently lacks equivalent baseline ecological data for flora.

In providing such robust comparative data, this project will enable conservation managers—both within and outside OEH—to compare and prioritise plant species for action.

The research will determine the range size and orientation (i.e. north–south or east–west, and altitudinal dimensions), the climate niche breadth, and the diversity of soil types occupied by each species, on the basis of cleaned distribution data from the Australian Virtual Herbarium.

The project extends previous research using climate niche breadth as a risk indicator to allow consideration of surrogates for adaptive capacity under climate change.

Bioclimatic discordance: combining molecular and environmental data to identify floristic refugia and corridors

Led by Maurizio Rossetto (Royal Botanical Gardens and Domain Trust) and Linda Beaumont (Macquarie University)

By identifying the landscape features and geographic areas that have operated as refugia during temporal climatic fluctuations, this project will provide much-improved tools for predicting future vegetation-level responses and priority areas.

Areas that have served as population refugia (generally where there are  uniquely diverse species accumulations) can be identified through analysis of molecular data and can be differentiated from expansion areas (generally harbouring lower and/or shared diversity).

This project uses environmental niche models to explore temporal changes in the availability of suitable habitat by using historical, current and future datasets.

Centres of diversity and of bioclimatic stability can be identified by combining suitable molecular data (e.g. the whole chloroplast genome) from multiple, functionally selected species (e.g. long-lived rainforest trees that have similar dispersal potential) with historical (e.g. Last Glacial Maximum) and current climatic datasets.

Predicted effects of climate change on freshwater biodiversity

Led by Alex Bush (Macquarie University), Eren Turak (Office of Environment and Heritage) and Dean Gilligan (NSW Department of Primary Industries)

Freshwater species are potentially highly susceptible to the effects of climate change, especially with the increased difficulties they are experiencing in dispersing between catchments. Information on the distribution of freshwater species will support a number of the objectives identified in the NSW Biodiversity Strategy and the latest Implementation Plans for Biodiversity and Climate Change knowledge themes.

This project aims to establish a baseline dataset covering the distribution of freshwater species in NSW across a wide range of taxonomic groups. Projections of future distributions under climate change will identify key vulnerable groups. The addition of freshwater weeds will complement research by other projects in the Biodiversity Hub on weeds of national significance.

Macquarie University