Public Library of Science
School of Arts and Humanities
Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy.
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Australia.
Documenting effects of climate change is an important step towards designing mitigation and adaptation responses. Impacts of climate change on terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems have been well-documented in the Northern Hemisphere, but long-term data to detect change in the Southern Hemisphere are limited, and some types of change are generally difficult to measure. Here we present a novel approach using local ecological knowledge to facilitate a continent-scale view of climate change impacts on terrestrial biodiversity and ecosystems that people have perceived in Australia. We sought local knowledge using a national web-based survey, targeting respondents with close links to the environment (e.g. farmers, ecologists), and using a custom-built mapping tool to ask respondents to describe and attribute recent changes they had observed within an area they knew well. Results drawn from 326 respondents showed that people are already perceiving simple and complex climate change impacts on hundreds of species and ecosystems across Australia, significantly extending the detail previously reported for the continent. While most perceived trends and attributions remain unsubstantiated, >35 reported anecdotes concurred with examples in the literature, and >20 were reported more than once. More generally, anecdotes were compatible with expectations from global climate change impact frameworks, including examples across the spectrum from organisms (e.g. increased mortality in >75 species), populations (e.g. changes in recruitment or abundance in >100 species, phenological change in >50 species), and species (e.g. >80 species newly arriving or disappearing), to communities and landscapes (e.g. >50 examples of altered ecological interactions). The overarching pattern indicated by the anecdotes suggests that people are more often noticing climate change losers (typically native species) than winners in their local areas, but with observations of potential ‘adaptation in action’ via compositional and phenological change and through arrivals and range shifts (particularly for native birds and exotic plants). A high proportion of climate change-related anecdotes also involved cumulative or interactive effects of land use. We conclude that targeted elicitation of local ecological knowledge about climate change impacts can provide a valuable complement to data-derived knowledge, substantially extending the volume of explicit examples and offering a foundation for further investigation.
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