Climate change refugia for terrestrial biodiversity

Media type: 
April Reside
Jeremy VanDerWal
Ben Phillips
Luke Shoo
Dan Rosauer
Barbara Anderson
Justin Welbergen
Craig Moritz
Simon Ferrier
Thomas Harwood
Kristen Williams
Brendan Mackey
Sonia Hugh
Stephen Williams
James Cook University
Griffith University
Australian National University

This study identified refuges for biodiversity across Australia in areas with the least expected change, that will retain biodiversity and provide opportunities for added species in the next 75 years.


We are currently facing the likelihood of severe climate change before the close of the century. In the face of such a global driver of species loss, we urgently need to identify refugia that will shelter species from the worst impacts of climate change. This  will be  a critical component of successful conservation and management of our biodiversity. Despite this, little is known about how best to identify refugia in the landscape, and the practical strategies needed to identify, protect and expand refugia are just beginning to be developed. Identifying refugia that will protect most species, or large numbers of species, remains a complex and daunting endeavour due to the large variations in climatic and biotic requirements of species. 

A first step to identifying refugia for biodiversity across Australia is to locate the areas which show the least change into the future (i.e. the most environmentally stable), particularly along axes of temperature and precipitation. The second and crucial step is to identify the areas that will retain most of their biodiversity and provide opportunities for additional species to relocate to into the future. Using these approaches in this project, we take the first steps to identify refugial areas across the Australian continent under contemporary climate change scenarios. We find that the southern and eastern parts of the continent contain refugia that many species will retreat to over the next 75 years, but that the current reserve system may be inadequate to allow species to shift to and persist in these areas. Disturbingly, we also find that there is a large portion of the Australian vertebrate community for which adequate natural refugia do not appear to exist. Fine-scaled regional analyses will be required to clarify these broad findings, and we examine a number of case studies demonstrating how these regional analyses might best proceed. 

Lessons learnt across the multiple techniques employed in this study include:
1. High elevation areas are important refugia.
2. Tasmania and the east coast of mainland Australia contain most of the key areas for refugia into the future.
3. Results are dependent on which objectives, techniques, taxonomic groups and climate scenarios are used.

Please cite this report as:
Reside, AE, VanDerWal, J, Phillips, BL, Shoo, LP, Rosauer, DF, Anderson, BJ, Welbergen, JA, Moritz, C, Ferrier, S, Harwood, TD, Williams, KJ, Mackey, B, Hugh, S, Williams, YM & Williams, SE 2013, Climate change refugia for terrestrial biodiversity: Defining areas that promote species persistence and ecosystem resilience in the face of global climate change, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 216 pp.

Visit the research project page

Cover photo is copyright © Mick Stanic, Flickr Creative Commons