Climate change is emerging as a serious threat to native species and ecosystems and is expected to be an ongoing challenge to their effective conservation.

Rising temperatures and sea levels, as well as climate-induced changes in fire regimes, water quality and ocean chemistry, will have wide-ranging impacts on biodiversity and will intensify existing threats such as habitat loss, weeds, pest animals and drought.

Some species survived previous climatic shifts by evolving, moving or modifying their behaviour. They may find it more difficult to use these coping strategies when change is rapid, especially if their habitat is degraded or lost.

The most vulnerable ecosystems include coastal, alpine, rainforest or fragmented terrestrial ecosystems, or ecosystems in areas vulnerable to fire or low freshwater availability.

Species that could become endangered or extinct include those:

  • living near the upper limits of their temperature range (for example, in alpine regions)
  • with restricted climatic niches
  • that can’t migrate to new habitats because of habitat fragmentation or lack of alternatives.

For species capable of dispersal, action is required to ensure:

  • there is sufficient remnant habitat
  • that invasive species are controlled
  • that there are links (including dispersal vectors) between habitats.

Research update

The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (DPIE) is collaborating with other government agencies and research institutions to provide updated information on the potential impacts of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity.

In 2019, the Biodiversity Node led by Macquarie University, under the NSW Adaptation Research Hub, delivered tools and products to increase knowledge of the capacity of species, ecosystems and landscapes to adapt to climate variability. The Node has compled a range of projects that will improve our understanding of the possible impacts of climate change on biodiversity and exploring management actions to help us to adapt to minimise these impacts. This research will support decision-makers in strategic and operational planning.

The information and tools generated by this research are now available;

  • Ecological data and information: the collation of current ecological data on the environmental and climate niches of NSW species to understand how they may be affected climate change.
  • Weeds, pest and disease: research that identifies risks from potentially emerging diseases and weeds under future climate conditions.
  • Managing changing landscapes: provides resources to be used to identify priorities (such as climate refugia) at the landscape scale to improve decision-making and future management.
  • Aquatic and coastal biodiversity: research on climate impacts on freshwater, estuarine and coastal ecosystems.
  • Cultural heritage and biodiversity: a case study investigating the impacts of climate change on the Minyumai Indigenous Protected Area and the effect on culturally significant species and cultural connection to land and biodiversity.

Additional information

  • In 2010, a technical report on the Potential impacts of climate change on biodiversity (PDF 1.8MB) was developed which presents an annotated assessment of the results of climate change for each ecological community in each region of NSW, with specific examples and case studies.
  • If you are interested in information on threatened species, visit Saving Our Species

Helping biodiversity adapt

As a statement of intent towards taking action on the threats to species and ecosystems caused by climate change, OEH (previously Department of Climate Change and Water) has developed Priorities for Biodiversity Adaptation to Climate Change (PDF 1296KB), with four key priorities:

  • Enhancing our understanding of the likely responses of biodiversity to climate change and readjusting management programs where necessary.
  • Protecting a diverse range of habitats through building a comprehensive, adequate and representative public reserve system in New South Wales, with a focus on under-represented bio-regions.
  • Increasing opportunities for species to move across the landscape by working with partners and the community to protect habitats and create the necessary connections across landscapes.
  • Assessing adaptation options for ecosystems most at risk from climate change in New South Wales.

The priorities are guided by the 2010 NSW Climate Impact Profile, which assessed the likely impact of climate change on species and ecosystems.