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Joining the dots: integrating climate and hydrological projections with freshwater ecosystem values to develop adaptation options for conserving freshwater biodiversity


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Davies, PE ORCID: 0000-0003-2651-4061, Barmuta, LA, Watson, A, Lacey, MJ, Graham, B, Read, M, Warfe, DM and Carter, S 2012 , Joining the dots: integrating climate and hydrological projections with freshwater ecosystem values to develop adaptation options for conserving freshwater biodiversity.

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The objective of this research was to investigate and test the necessary steps in
developing an adaptation planning framework for freshwater biodiversity. We used
Tasmania as a test case to demonstrate how downscaled climate model outputs could
be integrated with spatially resolved hydrological models and freshwater biodiversity
data. This enabled us to scope adaptation actions at local, regional and state scales for
Tasmania, and to explore how priorities might be set.
To achieve this integration we quantified how different climate change scenarios could
affect the risks to biodiversity and ecosystem values (‘biodiversity assets’) in
freshwaters, the scope and types of adaptation actions, and assessed the strengths
and weaknesses of the policy and planning instruments in responding to climate
We concluded that downscaled climate modelling, linked with modelling of catchment
and hydrological processes, refines projections for climate-driven risks to aquatic
environments. Spatial and temporal hazards and risks can now be compared at a
variety of scales, as well as comparisons between biodiversity assets (e.g. relative risk
to riparian vegetation v. in-stream biota). Uncertainties can be identified and built into
adaptation processes. Notwithstanding this progress, we identified a number of issues
that need to be addressed in order to increase confidence in this process.
The main issues for improved and timely modelling are: frameworks for using and
downscaling outputs from improved global climate models as they become available;
better data on thermal tolerances of freshwater biota; and, improved methods for
predicting key water temperature variables from air temperature and other biophysical
predictors. Improvements are also needed in updating and maintaining high quality
biodiversity data sets, and better spatially explicit information on the contributions of
groundwater to surface waters and rates of recharge.
The list of adaptation options available is extensive, but the key challenge is to
organise these options so that stakeholders are not overwhelmed. Scenario modelling
that incorporates explicit tools for comparing costs, benefits, feasibility and social
acceptability should help with setting priorities but require further development.
A review of current Australian policies revealed a variety of responses driven by both
water reform and climate change agendas. Many agencies are actively revising their
policies to accommodate adaptation. However, we note that much of the reform of the
water sector in the last 10–15 years has aimed to improve certainty for nonenvironmental
water uses. Under the National Water Initiative, governments have
agreed that entitlement holders should bear the risks of reduced volumes or reliability
of their water allocations as a result of changes in climate. The key opportunity for
adaptive uptake of climate adaptations is by developing and periodically reviewing
water management planning tools. Pathways need to be developed for integrating the
traditional evolution of planning and policy with the needs for climate change
adaptation for aquatic ecosystems. Formal mechanisms for the uptake of knowledge
about identified risks into policy and legislative instruments remain under-developed.
An even bigger challenge is to integrate multiple adaptation strategies (sometimes at
different scales) to achieve specific adaptation objectives within regions or
catchments—especially where a mix of water management and non-water
management is required.

Item Type: Report (Technical Report)
Authors/Creators:Davies, PE and Barmuta, LA and Watson, A and Lacey, MJ and Graham, B and Read, M and Warfe, DM and Carter, S
Publisher: National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility
Additional Information:

© University of Tasmania and the Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility

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