Madagascar and Queensland : A Look at Climate Change and Biodiversity

By Joel Quilter

As an Environmental Sciences student, I’d always been interested in climate change and the impacts it could have on the planet, so when the chance to choose a topic for my dissertation came along, it was an obvious choice to study this area. Taking some coursework that I’d done the previous year as a reference point, I decided to look at the impacts that climate change would have on biodiversity in Madagascar and Queensland, Australia, whilst examining the way that socioeconomic factors influence conservation efforts.

One reason I chose to study Madagascar and Queensland is that both regions are extremely important in terms of biodiversity, and both Madagascar and Australia are famous for their high numbers of endemic species and charismatic megafauna. Additionally, the two areas were interesting to compare as there are many similarities between the two geographically. Madagascar and Queensland are found at roughly the same latitude, experience similar climates and have some of the same types of terrain, namely rainforests and mountainous regions. However, the two areas are very different socioeconomically. Madagascar is one of the world’s poorest countries and suffers from issues such as poverty and deforestation. Conversely, Australia is one of the world’s most developed countries and faces its own issues such as the threats industrialization and invasive species have on biodiversity.

In order to examine the ways that climate change is predicted to affect Madagascar and Queensland, I used data from the Wallace Initiative, a global database that uses data collected by scientists to predict how different species will be affected by future climate change under different scenarios. To visualize this data, I used ArcGIS and created maps which showed the future distributions of different taxa in the 2050s. Two maps were created from each study area, showing conditions under two climate scenarios, A1B and A30r5. A1B is a baseline scenario, which means that the maps under this scenario showed the state of biodiversity in a future where no steps are taken to reduce global carbon emissions. A30r5 is more positive, showing a future where emissions peak in 2030 and are then reduced at a rate of 5% each year. The taxa that I accounted for were plants, mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles, and the maps showed areas that were areas of refugia for these taxa (an area of refugia is an area where 75% or more of the species in a taxon are able to survive). These maps are shown below, with the acronyms in the legends referring to the taxa that any given area is a refugium for.

The maps showed that conditions under the A30r5 scenario were more positive in both countries though there were inconsistencies across both regions. There were areas, shown in green, that were refugia for all five taxa whilst other areas were predicted to be affected much more severely e.g. Southwest Madagascar and inland Queensland. In an effort to explain these regional differences, I used Climascope to examine how temperature and precipitation would be affected in areas which were affected differently in the maps at a global 2°C level.

This data suggested that precipitation will have more of an effect than temperature. There wasn’t a great deal of difference between areas of refugia and concern in terms of temperature in either study area, though there were clear trends relating to the impacts that a lack of precipitation could have on an ecosystem.

In order to assess the effects that socioeconomic factors could have on biodiversity and to try and find out the best ways to conserve biodiversity in both study areas I conducted an interview with an NGO representative working in Madagascar, a scientist in Queensland and a WWF representative who gave me a global overview of the relationships between socioeconomic status and conservation. From these interviews I found out that in Madagascar and other developing countries, a lack of education and economic resources is a major obstacle to conservation efforts. Biodiversity may be valued but there are limited resources to protect it. Conversely, in Queensland and other developed countries, resources may be available but attitudes of governments are often focused on short term solutions and therefore attention is likely to be focused more on immediate economic gains rather than the protection of biodiversity despite the long term benefits that this may bring. One common finding was that socioeconomic factors do indeed affect conservation efforts in both developed and developing countries by distracting attention away from issues affecting biodiversity. Therefore, any future efforts to conserve biodiversity should try to address these fundamental obstacles, in order to make projects more effective and in line with the priorities of the study area.

I realized when I wrote my dissertation that I was making very large statements given that this was an undergraduate project and that further research had to be conducted in order to justify the claims that I was making. Nevertheless, I learned a lot during this project, which seemed to capture the interest of many people. The multidisciplinary nature of it revealed how so many factors are related to each other when examining something like the effects of climate change on biodiversity and it continues to inspire me as I plan my dissertation for next year too.