Plant biodiversity and key threats mapped for South Australia

January 7, 2016 by Kate Bourne

Conservation biologists have published a landmark analysis of plant diversity across South Australia, identifying areas of exceptionally high diversity (biodiversity 'hotspots') and their key threats.

Published in the journal PLOS ONE, the University of Adelaide research, in partnership with the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR) and the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, highlights six hotspots. They are western Kangaroo Island, southern Mount Lofty Ranges, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands, southern Flinders Ranges, southern Eyre Peninsula and the Lower South East.

The researchers used detailed biological data collected over time, including from the State's Biological Survey and the State Herbarium, and a suite of sophisticated metrics to identify biodiverse regions and the potential threats to their conservation.

"We also looked at the extent to which the vegetation of each site was likely to change under future climates," says lead author Dr Greg Guerin. "We concluded that all of the state's ecosystems are expected to be impacted but the southern Flinders Ranges location is expected to be the most sensitive of these regions to climate change.

"All of the 'hotspots', however, are subject to serious conservation issues, such as habitat fragmentation, weed invasion and altered fire regimes."

The study found that the southern Mount Lofty Ranges region contained a high proportion of unique species and had high overall diversity but it has been subjected to the highest levels of disturbance since European settlement.

The western side of Kangaroo Island has perhaps the most significant plant biodiversity in South Australia, but was rated as less vulnerable due to higher reservation levels and lower incidences of weed species.

DEWNR's principal Ecologist Dr Dan Rogers says "This study has contributed to our understanding of South Australia's native biodiversity, particularly in relation to the relative impacts of climate change"

"By improving our understanding of potential ecosystem change under future climates, we are able to better inform the management of native biodiversity that reflects these climate-induced changes."

Co-author Professor Andrew Lowe, Chair of Plant Conservation Biology at the University of Adelaide, says: "Importantly, this study measures biodiversity at ecosystem rather than individual species level, and it uses numerical methods which can now be repeated and updated to meet future conservation management requirements.

"Now we have a tool in place that can contribute to how we assess South Australia's biodiversity."

Explore further: Major changes needed to protect Australia's species and ecosystems

More information: Greg R. Guerin et al. Identifying Centres of Plant Biodiversity in South Australia, PLOS ONE (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0144779

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