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Safety margins and adaptive capacity of vegetation to climate change

Rachael V. Gallagher, Stuart Allen & Ian J. Wright 

Vegetation is composed of many individual species whose climatic tolerances can be integrated into spatial analyses of climate change risk. Here, we quantify climate change risk to vegetation at a continental scale by calculating the safety margins for warming and drying (i.e., tolerance to projected change in temperature and precipitation respectively) across plants sharing 100 km × 100 km grid cells (locations). These safety margins measure how much warmer, or drier, a location could become before its ‘typical’ species exceeds its observed climatic limit. We also analyse the potential adaptive capacity of vegetation to temperature and precipitation change (i.e., likelihood of in situ persistence) using median precipitation and temperature breadth across all species in each location. 47% of vegetation across Australia is potentially at risk from increases in mean annual temperature (MAT) by 2070, with tropical regions most vulnerable. Vegetation at high risk from climate change often also exhibited low adaptive capacity. By contrast, 2% of the continent is at risk from reductions in annual precipitation by 2070. Risk from precipitation change was isolated to the southwest of Western Australia where both the safety margin for drier conditions in the typical species is low, and substantial reductions in MAP are projected.


Article published in nature – International journal of science

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