Limits to Adaptation project: Alpine areas

View the project outline, the project final report or a two-page summary of key findings

Lead organisation: Griffith University

Principal investigator: Associate Professor Catherine Pickering

Project summary

Climate change challenges both the conservation values and the social matrix in alpine areas that occur in the highest mountains of the Australian Alps and the higher peaks in Tasmania. These areas are of high conservation value, with most subalpine and alpine areas conserved in a series of protected areas. In or adjacent to these protected areas are ski resorts, and at lower altitude, there are population centres that depend to a large extent on jobs and incomes generated from snow based tourism. Snow cover is already declining in Australia in response to climate change. The consequence is changes in the distribution of native and introduced animals and plants, and fewer big snow years for ski tourism. For the conservation stakeholders proposed adaptations to climate change include increasing the resilience of ecosystems to threats from weeds and feral animals, soil erosion and increased fire risk, as well as ex situ conservation and enhanced connectivity. For the tourism industry, adaptation is focused around snow making and diversification into year round activities.

There are ecological, physical, economic, technological and social thresholds that will limit these strategies. Relying on the PI's extensive published and unpublished data, research and stakeholder engagement, this research will deliver a desktop analysis and a series of semi-structured interviews with different stakeholders, examining thresholds under different scenarios- no planned adaptations; residual effects at 2'C after planned adaptations used; residual effects for >4'C after planned adaptations; and substitutes for losses. Understanding these and other limits will be critical for conservation and tourism stake holders as they adapt for less snow and warmer summers in Australia's alpine areas.


Alpine ecosystems are considered to one of the four most at risk ecosystems from climate change in Australia. Assessing ecological, physical, economic, technological and social thresholds that may limit adaptation strategies of conservation organisations and the tourism industry in the region will assist these organisations in better focusing their efforts to minimise the negative impact of climate change.  This research will provide a methodology, a cases study and important insights into the conflict that can arise between the objectives of different stakeholders in dealing with climate changes change such as conservation and tourism organisations. This research will also establish benchmarks for other regions about how to examine limits to adaptations and how social, economic, physical and environmental factors interact.