News / Victoria

B.C.'s oldest park threatened by climate change: study

One of the rarest mammals in the world could see even more of its habitat destroyed by global warming, says a new study.

Authored by a team of researchers at the University of Victoria's SPAR Lab, the report compared forward-looking climate models with data about plant growth in the province over the past 20 years. The results gave them a glimpse into what's in store for some of B.C.'s most vulnerable ecosystems.

"Plant productivity is really driven by the climate," said Keith Holmes, lead author of the study. "So it gives you a way to see into the future."

If Holmes is right, then many of the province's protected parks will look very different 50 years from now. And one of the most affected regions will be Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island, established back in 1911.

As temperatures continue to rise, so too will the treeline in Strathcona, Holmes said. The result will be a loss of alpine habitat, home to the endangered Vancouver Island marmot as well as many species of wildflower.

"One or two degrees in temperature means a lot more for these higher alpine areas," he said. "The systems are changing, but the rate of change these species can adapt to is out of whack."

The marmot was once considered to be one of the rarest mammals in the world. In the late 1990s, conservationists began a captive breeding program to bolster their numbers, with many of the rodents being released into Strathcona Park.

Elsewhere in the province, the effects were more varied. Whereas climate change models predict more plant growth in places like Strathcona or the Pemberton Valley, Holmes said the opposite is true for parks in the Okanagan.

"It's going to be a lot drier, and we'll see fewer forests," he said, adding that the change will likely have an adverse effect on bird species.

Whereas many are calling for ways to mitigate climate change, Holmes said his research is about helping conservationists and park plan for the future. Biodiversity is vital for a robust ecosystem, he said, and knowing where species will be stressed can help to preserve them.

"[Climate change] is coming no matter what you do," he said. "I don't see it stopping at this point, so it's more productive to adapt to it."

"And if you're looking for a place to invest in terms of agriculture in the next 50 years, try Pemberton," he added.

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