The Climate Council have released a report called This is What Climate Change Looks Like (available here). It has lots of good, albeit depressing, information about how climate change is already impacting on natural environments across the continent, including mountain environments.

Mountain Journal has covered these issues before – increased fire risk to Gondwanic remnant vegetation in Tasmania, threats to iconic species like the Mountain Pygmy Possum and loss of snowpack, but this is a succinct collection of stories about impacts on wild nature in Australia.

The report notes that ‘droughts, ‘dry’ lightning strikes and heatwaves are transforming many Australian forests’ including the alpine ash and snowgum forests that we know and love.

The sections relevant to mountain environments in the report are:

Destruction of Tasmanian World Heritage Forests

Thousands of dry lightning strikes in January and February 2016 caused multiple intense bushfires in Tasmania burning over 120,000 hectares, including nearly 20,000 hectares in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Ignitions from ‘dry’ lightning storms are increasing in frequency because of climate change, sparking many remote bushfires that are difficult to reach and control. The 2016 fires killed species in ancient Gondwanan forests including pencil pines, King Billy pines and cushion plants thought to be over 1,000 years old. These plants are very slow-growing, poorly dispersed, and genetically impoverished, and unlike eucalypts, are not adapted to fire; little recovery was evident one year after the fires. Long-term drying and warming will continue to increase the risk that this fire-sensitive vegetation will be replaced by more flammable, fire-tolerant species.

This issue is covered in detail on Mountain Journal here.

Alpine flora

Australia’s alpine zone is considered one of the most vulnerable terrestrial ecosystems to the impacts of climate change. Snow cover and duration have been declining in the Snowy Mountains since the 1960s and fire risk is increasing.

But the influence of climate change on pathogens is an under-appreciated additional source of trouble.

The alpine shrub Nematolepis ovatifolia is endemic to the alpine and sub-alpine areas of the Snowy Mountains where it dominates large areas of heath. In the spring/summer of 2011/12, mass dieback (a condition in which plants begin to die from their roots or tips) of this species was observed and many individuals subsequently died. Surveys in 2013/14 and 2014/15 confirmed that at least 59

populations were affected by dieback, with more than 90 others showing some symptoms. Subsequent research has pointed to the root pathogen Phytophthora cambivora, which thrives in warm, wet soils, as the main culprit. Alpine soils are usually too cold for this type of pathogens to flourish, but following two very wet seasons (2011/12 and 2012/13), soils near the dieback sites were more than

2°C (2012/13) above the long-term average. This dieback event could be a preview of future conditions, exposing our vulnerable alpine flora to new risks.

Bogong Moth decline in the Australian Alps

Each spring for thousands of years, tens of millions of bogong moths (Agrotis infusa)

have migrated more than 1,000 kilometres from their breeding grounds in southern

Queensland, north and western New South Wales, and Victoria, to caves in the Australian Alps. Settling in densities of up to an estimated 17,000 per m2, the moths have been of great cultural significance for Aboriginal people who would converge to feast during ceremonies.

The moths are also a vital part of the food chain for many alpine birds and mammals, including the endangered mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus). But prolonged drought through parts of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales has now affected the availability of grass on which the larvae of the moths feed, severely reducing moth populations in the Alps, and for the past two years there have been no moths at all in many of the caves. Recent observations of starving mountain pygmy possums with dead young in their pouches suggest these trends might have already had catastrophic impacts.

This issue is covered in detail on Mountain Journal here.

As always, action is the antidote to despair.

Join the global climate strike on September 20. Details on your local action are available here.