A review of the potential impacts of climate change upon Kakadu wetlands

  • Anna Louise Boustead

    Student thesis: Coursework Masters - CDU


    A lack of appropriate scientific research, historical data and robust bioclimatic models for Kakadu National Park has made it difficult to predict the potential ecological impacts of climate change upon Kakadu’s wetlands with any certainty (Bayliss et al., 1997; Bartolo et al., 2008). The most recent climate projections for Kakadu National Park, sourced from CSIRO are derived from the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the years 2020, 2050 and 2070 (Hennessy et al., 2008). Previous reports on the impacts of climate change upon Kakadu were based on earlier IPCC models, which have created some inconsistencies in the literature (Hennessy et al., 2004; Bayliss et al., 1997; Cobb et al., 2000). These latest projections, although highly variable, indicate Kakadu is likely to experience higher average temperatures and more hot days, with more extreme cyclones and floods. Rainfall is not projected to either increase or decrease, although seasonal shifts could occur. Significant saltwater intrusion of freshwater wetlands is likely to significantly reduce freshwater wetland habitat.

    Three wetland key species were used as case studies to examine some of the potential ecological impacts of climate change based upon existing literature and knowledge of each species’ life history.

    The case studies showed how specific impacts interact with each other, making it difficult to predict future changes in the abundance and distribution of each species. However, the projected level of saltwater intrusion due to sea level rise is likely to have a significant impact upon species which depend heavily upon freshwater wetlands, such as wild rice and magpie geese. The case studies also highlighted the importance of conserving species which play a key role in the food chain, such as wild rice. The flow-on impacts of climate change will depend upon ecological relationships and the environmental vulnerability of each particular species. Highly adaptive species with a broad diet such as the saltwater crocodile are likely to be less sensitive to the impacts of climate change than those with more specific requirements.

    This study highlights the need for information sharing and continued open communication between traditional owners, park managers and user groups. It also reiterates the need for adaptive planning which considers the needs of traditional owners and user groups under the constraints of climate change and potential conflicts that may arise. Finally, the Kakadu wetlands are just one of many habitats threatened by climate change. This thesis emphasises the urgent need for policies and action to immediately reduce our global greenhouse gas emissions if we are to prevent major losses in biodiversity around the world.
    Date of AwardJul 2009
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorPenny Wurm (Supervisor)

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