What measures can we take here on Hornby Island to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change? Climate change is here and evidence shows that the Earth is nearing a tipping point. For instance, as Dr. Richard Hedba stated, one of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide exceeded 412 parts per million (ppm) in 2017 and 2018 for first time in 800,000 years and has risen by about 30 percent in last 12 years.
Dr. Hebda, former curator of Earth History and Botany at the Royal BC Museum, recently gave an engaging, informative, and useful presentation at the Community Hall on climate change, ecosystems, and the future of Hornby Island. He discussed scientific studies on climate change, including his own research which involves examining plant fossils to understand climate impacts and changes, and offered practical suggestions for adapting to what will become a very different environment than we have today. Several key points about climate change that he made include:
- Ecosystems and processes are more sensitive than model predictions.
- We should expect transformative events, such as droughts and disease.
- Changes will vary from place to place on a small scale.
- There will be increasing disturbances of all kinds.
- The responses of individual species are challenging to predict.
- With climate change, new ecosystems will arise.
- The atmospheric CO2 concentrations are lagging.
Given the unfortunate reality of rising temperatures, Dr. Hebda offered some practical suggestions that would help Hornby Islanders. While we must do everything to mitigate climate change, undoubtedly adaptation will be necessary. Dr. Hebda discussed four adaptation measures we can take.
First, adaptation includes Conservation and Native Plant Cultivation. We can propagate native plant species by planting them in gardens and parks, restoring them to degraded sites, and encouraging them along roadsides.* It is also important to identify and protect dry sites by planting dry habitat species such as oak, Douglas-fir, and arbutus. Keep in mind that shorelines will change. One species that thrives along shorelines and was only identified in recent years is the shoreline juniper tree.
A second adaptation strategy is Assisted Migration of Plants which takes into consideration region, site, and species. This is because plants won’t be able to disperse at the rate of climate change. Beginning with the most sensitive species and sites, they will need help sustaining natural populations as sources and require assisted relocation. Garry oak trees will have continued and increasing importance in our ecosystem and require assisted migration. One indication of a future meadow and Garry oak friendly site is the occurrence of sea blush. So keep your eyes open for this slender stemmed plant with clusters of pink flowers in late spring. However, it is important to also avoid drastic transformations, and be sure to monitor the sites!
The third adaptation is Water Conservation, specifically the conservation of wetlands and planting drought resistant plants.
The fourth adaptation is Carbon Stewardship. Key points here are to restore carbon sinks and removal processes, only remove trees for ecological purposes, and end ecosystems degradation.
The fourth adaptation is Food Security. One experiment Dr. Hebda described on food security and climate change examined the yields of Heritage potatoes across sites. The results were ordered from highest to lowest identified yield: Ozette-Nootka, Russett Burbank, Chieftain, Mrs. Moehrle’s Yellow, Banana, Yukon Gold, Sieglinde, Russian Blue, Kennebec, Corne de Mouton, Irish Cobbler, Likely
Dr. Hebda urged us to consider the following:
Be prepared for surprises and extremes. With climate change comes flood, drought, and pest outbreaks.
Undertake bold experiments and be sure to take action!
Click Here for an article by Anthony Gregson on the talk from the Islands Grapevine.
*The Natural History Centre has an information binder on our native plant species as well as an ethnobotanical native plant demonstration garden – come take a look!
Photo of Richard Hebda at the Hornby Island Community Hall by barb biagi.