Climate change and freshwater ecosystems in Oceania: an assessment of vulnerability and adaptation opportunities

Kim Jenkins, R.T. Kingsford, G.P. Closs, Benjamin Wolfenden, C.D. Matthaei, S.E. Hay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Human-forced climate change significantly threatens the world's freshwater ecosystems, through projected changesto rainfall, temperature and sea level. We examined the threats and adaptation opportunities to climate change in adiverse selection of rivers and wetlands from Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands). We found commonthemes, but also important regional differences. In regulated floodplain rivers in dry regions (i.e. Australia), reducedflooding projected with climate change is a veneer on current losses, but impacts ramp up by 2070. Increasing droughtthreatens biota as the time between floods extends. Current measures addressing water allocations and dammanagement can be extended to adapt to climate change, with water buy-back and environmental flows critical.Freshwater wetlands along coastal Oceania are threatened by elevated salinity as sea level rises, potentially mitigatedby levee banks. In mountainous regions of New Zealand, the biodiversity of largely pristine glacial and snow meltrivers is threatened by temperature increases, particularly endemic species. Australian snow melt rivers face similarproblems, compounding impacts of hydro-electric schemes. Translocation of species and control of invasive speciesare the main adaptations. Changes to flow regime and rising water temperatures and sea levels are the main threatsof climate change on freshwater ecosystems. Besides lowering emissions, reducing impacts of water consumptionand protecting or restoring connectivity and refugia are key adaptations for conservation of freshwater ecosystems.Despite these clear imperatives, policy and management has been slow to respond, even in developed regions withsignificant resources to tackle such complex issues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-219
Number of pages19
JournalPacific Conservation Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • Dryland rivers
  • Estuary
  • Floodplain
  • Flow regime
  • Glaciers
  • River regulation
  • Snow melt rivers
  • Wetland

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