Hydrological change escalates risk of ecosystem stress in Australia's threatened biodiversity hotspot
Royal Society of Western Australia
Faculty of Computing, Health and Science
School of Natural Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management
The southwestern corner of the Australian continent has been identified as a global "biodiversity hotspot", defined as an area where "exceptional concentrations of endemic species are undergoing exceptional loss of habitat". In this paper we reconsider the reasons for this conservation priority. We briefly review significant characteristics of the flora and fauna, and the way threatening processes are escalating ecosystem stress to these conservation values. Our specific aim is to examine the ecological consequences of hydrological change, including emergent issues such as climate change, and focus on the coastal plains in higher rainfall zones where the majority of the Western Australian population resides. Here we argue that human-driven and/or climatically driven hydrological change deserve greater attention, since they: i) directly escalate the risk of extinction for some components of the biota, or ii) are underlying and/or contributing factors in the manifestation of other threats to the biota, and may complicate or exacerbate some of those threats (such as fire, Phytophthora and the spread of weeds). This paper briefly outlines the challenges to the region's biodiversity posed by hydrological change. We suggest a societal adoption of approaches based on water literacy will be necessary to avoid irreversible changes associated with a continued reliance on water resource developments and other energy/water intensive industrial activities.