Future Havens Mapped for Life in Warming World

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A newly developed technique may allow conservation managers to predict where animals and plants will find refuges as the planet’s climate continues to destabilize.

Plants and animals face grave threats as ever increasing amounts of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere alter the planet’s climate. Increased temperatures and rainfall changes cost creatures their homes.

Although many creatures could lose much of their traditional territory, some refuges may remain that will maintain the temperature and moisture that existed before the start of recent, rapid climatic alterations.

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By mapping where these areas will persist, people can prioritize these regions for conservation so that future generations may continue to use the planet’s natural resources. A team of Australian scientists discovered a way to predict the future locations of those life rafts for creatures losing their homes to climate change.

To create their maps of future refuges, the Aussie scientists used LiDAR, or light detection and ranging, data to map plant growth patterns in a biodiversity hotspot of the Land Down Under, known as the South-West Australian Floristic Region (SWAFR), especially around outcroppings of granite rock.

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The massive granite boulders act like a gutter-less roof in a rainstorm by channeling water and nutrients to the surrounding soil. The areas around the outcroppings remain wetter than the surrounding plains which allows more than 1,200 plant species to thrive, along with numerous animals.

The results of this recent LiDAR mapping, published in PLOS ONE, predicted which granite outcroppings may shelter Australian wildlife as the island continent becomes hotter and drier. The runoff from the rocks may keep the surrounding area wet enough to support creatures as they die off in baked flatlands.

The same technique used by the Australian team could be adapted to other threatened environments, including Alpine habitats and deserts. Protecting the areas most likely to serve as havens for wildlife allows efficient use of scarce conservation funds.

Image: The granites in Currawinya National Park Credit: Inas, Wikimedia Commons

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