New report finds Australian landscape can become ‘more grassland’ by 2050
New research has found that Australian grasslands could become more grassland in the decades to come if policies are adopted to encourage more of them.
The new report from the University of Western Australia and the University, Melbourne, also found that by 2050, Australia’s grasslands will be on track to be the world’s sixth most productive grassland species, and that there will be more than 40,000 hectares of grassland now, compared to just 6,600 hectares in 2050.
“The increase in grassland is likely to be driven by habitat loss,” said Dr Paul Tye, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Forestry and the lead author of the new study, published in the journal Global Change Biology.
“This change in grasslands is likely due to habitat loss, climate change, increased agricultural development, and human-driven disturbances to the natural systems of grasslands.”
Dr Tye and his team of researchers used a range of different metrics to examine Australia’s vast grasslands to determine the likelihood of grass-covered areas by 2050.
They found that in 2050, if the average annual rainfall per hectare is increased to 2.3mm, there will now be more grasslands per hectanare in Australia than there were in 2050 and that the percentage of grasses in Australia’s national parks and reserves will be higher than it is today.
In addition, the authors found that grassland areas in the northern and southern ranges of Australia will be significantly more grass-rich than in the past.
“These results suggest that the landscape is changing in the sense that it’s becoming more grassy, and is in fact a very significant indicator of whether we are heading towards a grasslands-based world,” Dr Tye said.
The researchers found that the average grassland area per hectre has increased by an average of 20 hectares since 2050.
This increase is expected to continue for the next decade and is the result of increasing land use and a larger proportion of land used for agricultural purposes.
The report also found more than half of Australia’s remaining grasslands are likely to have disappeared by 2050 as climate change leads to more frequent droughts and extreme weather events, with Australia’s major grassland zones already under threat.
It said the report also shows that more than 70 per cent of the world is currently in the process of changing their grasslands for more productive uses.
“We know that this is happening,” Dr Mandy Wilson, a co-author of the study and a professor at the University and the Australian National University, said.
“In the short term, we are seeing that grasslands can be more productive and less sensitive to climate change in Australia.
But, as the climate changes, more of our grasslands may be degraded.”
That could mean the loss of our landscapes, which are critical habitats for wildlife, plants and animals.
“Dr Wilson said it is important to take these changes in grasses into consideration because climate change will have a negative impact on grasslands as a whole.”
Australia has a very rich and varied set of grass ecosystems, including more than 300 species of grass species,” she said.
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