Gums could be goners as climate changes

Australians could see suitable environments for the country’s iconic eucalypt trees in decline within a generation, according to new international research involving a CEED Researcher Nathalie Butt.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, paint a stark picture with the habitat of more than 90% of eucalypt species set to decline, with 16 species forecast to lose their home environments entirely within 60 years, due to climate change.

“Changes are likely to be more drastic under severe climate change scenarios,” says Nathalie Butt. “While some of the predicted effects could be reduced if we manage to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

Associate Professor Bernd Gruber of the University of Canberra’s Institute for Applied Ecology, one of the co-authors of the report, said the study is the first to examine the impact of climate change on the distribution of a large group of closely related tree species on a continental scale. “This study demonstrates the importance of not simply counting the number of species in biodiversity conservation, but also considering their evolutionary history, which determines how closely related species are to each other,” says Bernd Gruber. “Using this approach we were able to identify hotspots that will contain high levels of eucalypt diversity under a changing climate, both in terms of the number of species and their reflection of the trees’ evolutionary pathways.

Protecting these hotspots will be important to ensure we retain biodiversity in the future.

“We predict that a three degree rise in temperature over the next 60 years would see a decline of suitable habitat for 91% of the 657 species of eucalypts we studied.”


González-Orozco CE, LJ Pollock, AH Thornhill, BD Mishler, N Knerr, SW Laffan, JT Miller, DF Rosauer, DP Faith, DA Nipperess, H Kujala, S Linke, N Butt, C Külheim, MD Crisp & B Gruber (2016). Nature Climate Change. ncurrent/full/nclimate3126.html#contrib-auth

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