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Butt N, L Pollock and C McAlpine (2013) Eucalypts face increasing climate stress. ECOLOGY AND EVOLUTION 3(15):5011-5022

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Global climate change is already impacting species and ecosystems across the planet, and trees are among the first taxonomic groups to be affected by changes and climate extremes. Shifts in species' distributions will influence biodiversity and ecosystem function at scales ranging from local to landscape; dry and hot regions will be especially vulnerable. The Australian continent has been especially susceptible to climate change with extreme heat waves, droughts and flooding in recent years, and this climate trajectory is expected to continue. We sought to understand how climate change may impact ecosystems by modelling distributional changes in eucalypt species, which dominate or co-dominate most forested ecosystems across Australia. We modelled a representative sample of Eucalyptus and Corymbia species (n = 108, or 14% of all species) using newly available Representative Concentration Pathway scenarios developed for the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC, and bioclimatic and substrate predictor variables. We compared current, 2025, 2055 and 2085 distributions. Overall, Eucalyptus and Corymbia species in the central desert and open woodland regions will be the most affected, losing 20% of their climate space under the mid-range climate scenario and twice that under the extreme scenario. The least affected species, in eastern Australia, are likely to lose 10% of their climate space under the mid-range climate scenario, and twice that under the extreme scenario. Range shifts will be lateral as well as polewards, and these east-west transitions will be more significant, reflecting the strong influence of precipitation rather than temperature in central latitudes. These net losses, and the direction of shifts and contractions in range, suggest that many species in the eastern and southern seaboards will be pushed towards the continental limit and that large tracts of currently treed landscapes, especially in th e continental interior, will change dramatically in terms of species composition and ecosystem structure. Carbon storage (and, therefore, climate change mitigation) is a key ecosystem function for forests, especially significant as forests globally hold more carbon than the atmosphere. Even proportionally small changes in woody vegetation and forest composition can have large implications in terms of carbon storage and stocks as Australia is so large. Potential changes in climate space suitability should therefore be taken into account in carbon stock management schemes. Investment in carbon storage may not deliver the predicted benefit under recurring droughts and tree dieback. The UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development agreed on a global target of restoration of 150 million ha of disturbed and degraded land by 2020, but if areas which have been set aside for restoration are no longer climatically suitable, this casts doubt on the benefit of restoration planning in these areas: establishing trees in such landscapes will be extremely difficult under changing climate conditions.