• Green-eyed Treefrog (Litoria-serrata). Photo by Conrad Hoskin (Supplied)
Aussie scientists say that we have more time than previously thought to save threatened species from extinction.
Kemal Atlay

12 Oct 2016 - 12:53 PM  UPDATED 12 Oct 2016 - 12:58 PM

Climate change is slowly killing off various species both in Australia and around the world. But a new study shows we might have enough time to undo some of the damage.

New biodiversity modelling techniques used by Aussie scientists have revealed that we have more time than previously thought to save threatened frog species from extinction due to human-induced climate change. The study, led by Dr Damien Fordham from the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute, was published today in Biology Letters.

“What we were able to do in this study was to go and actually determine how long it actually takes for a species to go extinct after their ranges have declined,” Fordham tells SBS Science.

“It’s a bit of a windfall for conservation because you’ve got that additional time to intervene.”

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A time lag

The researchers modelled the threat of climate change on 24 frog species in tropical north-eastern Australia, including the protected Wet Tropics of Queensland UNESCO World Heritage Area, and found that extinctions can occur after a significant time lag from when the impact of climate change is first recorded.

They found that up to four threatened frog species face extinction by 2080, but there is hope yet to save at least three species thanks to these newly revealed time delays.

“It allows time for things like conservation intervention and it allows time also potentially, if they’re quite long in the order of centuries, for adverse climatic conditions to be reversed and for that to prevent the extinction of the species,” says Fordham.

Intervention methods would include moving threatened species to protected areas that can provide a buffer from the effects of climate change, as well as restoring habitats to ensure the species can flourish. 

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Species triage

The study has major implications for ‘triage’-based conservation, where intervention is prioritised for species that are in more immediate danger of extinction. With new knowledge, conservationists now have more time to direct resources where necessary.

According to study co-author Professor Barry Brook from the University of Tasmania, the findings are also good news for other threatened plant and animal species.

“By showing that extinction delays can exceed decades for short-lived animals such as frogs, it follows that the time lags for extinction might be even larger for long-lived species, such as large vertebrates and trees,” he said.

Human-induced climate change is already having a significant impact on some of the world’s most fragile animal species. Earlier this year it claimed its first mammal victim, the Bramble Cay melomys, a unique rodent endemic to the Great Barrier Reef.

“We’re definitely going to see a lot more impact of climate change on biodiversity, there’s no doubt,” Fordham says.

“Our results show quite definitely that climate change is going to cause some imminent extinctions, so some extinctions will be occurring this century.”

He says the next step in the research will be to examine the specific traits that may be associated with extinction time lags to allow for better conservation planning. 

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