An international team of researchers led by Kings Park Science’s Dr Katinka Ruthrof has documented the responses of plants, animals and marine life to a major heatwave which affected Western Australia in 2011.

Kings Park SPhd student Anthea conducting research in Kings Park bushland.  Photo: J. Thomas

The heatwave contributed to several environmental impacts felt right across WA including coral bleaching on Ningaloo Reef, insect outbreaks and mass tree deaths in the Northern Jarrah Forest. In contrast, an increase in the numbers of tropical fish (including the Lined Dottyback) were also recorded following the heatwave.

The research paper, just published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that during March 2011, maximum air temperatures were two degrees Celsius higher than the long-term March average in the 300,000 km2 area studied from Cape Leeuwin in WA’s South West to Exmouth on WA’s mid-coast. This increase in temperature was also reflected in Perth’s average maximum temperature being exceeded by approximately five degrees Celsius over the same period.

Dr Ruthrof said the impacts of the heatwave were staggering.

'The breadth of animals and plants affected by these heatwave conditions suggest our ecosystems are more vulnerable than we think,' she said.

'Some of the trees we studied are from long-lived species, which have experienced many extremes in the past, but they died in this event. It was clearly significant.'

The research contributes valuable knowledge to help manage the lands and marine parks managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, which include WA’s national parks, Kings Park and Botanic Garden, Bold Park and Rottnest Island.

The research paper was published by a collaborative team from Murdoch University, the University of Arizona, Edith Cowan University, the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, CSIRO and the UWA Oceans Institute.

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