Queen Elizabeth National Park, Acacia brachystegia grasslands (Northern Savannah) by Andy Plumptre
In a new paper, available online now in Biological Conservations, Rocio together with researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Queensland assessed the potential impact of climate change on the distributions of ecosystems.The distribution effects that we investigated here that may result from climate change are six: contraction, expansion or shifting of existing ecosystems, creation of new ecosystems, complete destruction to ecosystems, or no change to ecosystem distribution.
Usually, assessments of climate change tend to be primarily species-focused and they do not estimate directly how entire ecosystems may change. In this paper, we use an ecosystem-based modelling approach to provide a region-wide climate change vulnerability assessment of the seven major ecosystems across Africa’s Albertine Rift. The Albertine Rift is a global biodiversity hotspot, containing more endemic vertebrates than anywhere else in Africa. We used Maxent to, first, estimate each ecosystem’s extent using current climate data, and, then, to project the potential distribution of each ecosystem for 2050 and 2070.
The results founded that suitable environmental conditions for most ecosystems are predicted to contract rapidly in extent and shift upwards in altitude. High-altitude ecosystems and the endemic species they support are at immediate risk, owing to rapid predicted shrinkage in their suitable extent. Only one of the studied ecosystems (the Combretum-grasslands savannah) was predicted to expand, with suitable conditions increasing by 32% in area by 2050. The extent and structure of boundary zones between the Rift’s ecosystems may change significantly through time, due to the contractions and shifts of the environmental conditions for existing ecosystem distributions. Sadly, by 2070, 44% of the region could be climatically unsuitable for the current ecosystems.
Conservation planning across the Rift will need to account for the ecosystem shifts and rapidly changing boundary zones to ensure the long-term persistence of the many endemic species. Beyond the Albertine Rift, this ecosystem-based modelling technique can be adapted to any terrestrial region, providing critical information for conservation vulnerability assessments.
Reference: Ponce-Reyes, R., A. J. Plumptre, D. Segan, S. Ayebare, R. A. Fuller, H. P. Possingham, and J. E. M. Watson. 2017. Forecasting ecosystem responses to climate change across Africa’s Albertine Rift. Biological Conservation 209:464-472.