Natural hazards in a changing world: A case for ecosystem-based management

Nel, J.L. et al., 2014. PloS one

Original research
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Communities worldwide are increasingly affected by natural hazards such as floods, droughts, wildfires and storm-waves. However, the causes of these increases remain underexplored, often attributed to climate changes or changes in the patterns of human exposure. This paper aims to quantify the effect of climate change, as well as land cover change, on a suite of natural hazards. Changes to four natural hazards (floods, droughts, wildfires and storm-waves) were investigated through scenario-based models using land cover and climate change drivers as inputs. Findings showed that human-induced land cover changes are likely to increase natural hazards, in some cases quite substantially. Of the drivers explored, the uncontrolled spread of invasive alien trees was estimated to halve the monthly flows experienced during extremely dry periods, and also to double fire intensities. Changes to plantation forestry management shifted the 1:100 year flood event to a 1:80 year return period in the most extreme scenario. Severe 1:100 year storm-waves were estimated to occur on an annual basis with only modest human-induced coastal hardening, predominantly from removal of coastal foredunes and infrastructure development. This study suggests that through appropriate land use management (e.g. clearing invasive alien trees, re-vegetating clear-felled forests, and restoring coastal foredunes), it would be possible to reduce the impacts of natural hazards to a large degree. It also highlights the value of intact and well-managed landscapes and their role in reducing the probabilities and impacts of extreme climate events.

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