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Researchers at CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, have painstakingly reconstructed the nation's 'once in a century drought' in the early 1900s, revealing that it caused mass ecosystem collapse and dramatic declines in plant and animal populations across more than a third of the continent.
As part of efforts to prepare for and adapt to future droughts, CSIRO ecologists recreated the megadrought through historical records, including the study of tens of thousands of newspaper articles, to build a picture of the event's effects on the nation published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
Australia - Landscapes - Species - Pressure - Plants
"With many of Australia's landscapes more fragmented and degraded, and species under pressure from invasive plants and animals, a similar drought today could spell disaster on an even more devastating scale," CSIRO researcher Dr. Robert Godfree said.
Australia's Federation Drought, spanning 1895 to 1903, was one of the world's worst recorded megadroughts. Much of the country received less than 40 percent of its average rainfall, and 1902 was the driest year on record.
Australia - Depression - New - South - Wales
"Australia saw widespread economic depression. In New South Wales, most rivers stopped flowing. Dust storms filled dams, buried homesteads and created ghost towns as people fled," Dr. Godfree said.
"Wildlife and stock starved or died of thirst. Native birds and mammals died under trees, in creeks, and on the plains. Tens of millions of sheep and cattle were killed, and hundreds of millions of rabbits died of starvation after stripping the landscape of its plant life."
Ecologists - Megadrought - Effects - Australia - Biodiversity
Ecologists found this megadrought also saw significant effects on Australia's unique biodiversity.
"The Federation Drought had the biggest documented impact on plants and animals across a continent yet studied," Dr. Godfree said.
Australia - Bird - Fish
"In Australia, more than 60 bird, fish,...
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