Herbivores in alpine herbfields: Will wombats shift to higher altitudes with climate change?

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Shifts in the geographic range towards higher altitudes are anticipated for many species in southeastern Australia in response to future climate warming. This is particularly the case for the Snowy Mountains, where a substantial reduction in the snow cover is expected to have a major impact on the distribution of species. A number of large marsupial herbivores occur at lower subalpine elevations, and a shift in their distribution to higher altitudes due to climate change will result in increased grazing of the vegetation of the alpine area. Common wombats Vombatus ursinus were chosen as a modelspecies for examining range shifts because they are common in subalpine areas, but rarely occur above the tree line in the alpine zone. Changes in wombat habitat over time were predicted using a rule-based modelling approach that incorporates resources important to wombats as well as changesin snow depth with climate change. These models predicted a 16% increase in the area of suitable wombat habitat across the study area by 2050. This increase was largely within higher subalpine altitudes. Thus, shifts in wombat distribution in the Snowy Mountains with climate change are likely tooccur at higher subalpine altitudes as a filling process within the extent of occurrence, rather than an expansion beyond the range boundary into the alpine zone.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWildlife and climate change
Subtitle of host publicationTowards robust conservation strategies for Australian fauna
EditorsDaniel Lunney, Pat Hutchings
Place of PublicationMosman
PublisherRoyal Zoological Society of New South Wales
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9780980327250
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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