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Case study 9: Climate change in Kosciuszko National Park

from Managing pressures on the park system

A shift in temperatures resulting from climate change is likely to have serious impacts on alpine environments in Australia. Research has suggested that a temperature rise of only 10°C would threaten a number of alpine species currently living at the upper limit of their temperature range. Over 54 per cent of the entire extent of the Australian Alps bioregion is within New South Wales, of which more than 80 per cent is within the NSW park system (NSW NPWS 2003a).

Photo: Alpine vegetation within Kosciuszko National Park. L. Wren / DEC

Alpine vegetation within Kosciuszko
National Park. L. Wren / DEC

Climate change poses one of the greatest potential threats to the values of Kosciuszko National Park. In the Australian Alps, Bureau of Meteorology records suggest there has been a warming of the alpine climate (mean annual temperature) over the past decade of between 0.1 and 0.15°C. The CSIRO has modelled alpine climate change scenarios (CSIRO 2003) suggesting a decrease in the area of snow cover (of at least 30 days per year) by 14-54 per cent by 2020 and by 30-93 per cent by 2050. The worst case scenario could see a contraction of the snow country to a small area centred on Mount Kosciuszko by 2050, and the possible loss of the alpine ecosystems.

Some of the potential effects of climate change on the biota of the park, especially that of the alpine and subalpine areas, include:

  • the possible extinction of between 15 and 40 of the 200 alpine plant species within 70 years, with a further 49 species likely to experience reductions in their distributions. As little as a 1°C rise in temperature accompanied by the predicted changes to precipitation would eliminate the bioclimatic range of the mountain pygmy-possum (Burramys parvus)
  • the uphill migration of biota from lower elevations, although those from higher elevations are likely to be lost because there is no alternative habitat
  • changes in the size and composition of some vegetation communities
  • changes in the composition of the faunal assemblages
  • a likely increase in the diversity, abundance and distribution of weed species
  • uphill extensions in the ranges of pest animal species
  • an increase in the incidence of wildfires
  • alterations to catchment hydrology and geomorphological processes.

In order to address some of these potential impacts, the draft plan of management for Kosciuszko National Park proposes strategies that aim to improve knowledge and understanding of the implications of climate change for the values of the park (NSW NPWS 2004a). Strategies include nominating the park for inclusion in the worldwide climate change monitoring program and developing a long-term research program directed at measuring and understanding the implications of climate change on the park. Broad scale and localised climate manipulation will also be investigated.

The draft plan of management for the park also identifies the need to minimise the effects of all other threats on plant and animal species and communities likely to be influenced by climate change. Strategies for fire management and weed and pest animal control also recognise the impacts of climate change. The plan proposes new systems to reduce the output of greenhouse gases associated with park management, and the development of education and interpretation programs aimed at increasing awareness of the impacts of climate change on park values and the actions that visitors can take to reduce greenhouse emissions.

While major advances in combating climate change require international cooperation between governments, private industry and the wider community, the NPWS is contributing through research, monitoring, community education and through enacting 'climate care' policies within parks.

Page last updated: 27 February 2011