Wildlife responds fast to climate change

2011-08-19 09:27

Washington - Plants and animals are responding up to three times faster to climate change than previously estimated, as wildlife shifts to cooler altitudes and latitudes, researchers said on Thursday.

Scientists have reported this decade on individual species that moved toward the poles or uphill as their traditional habitats shifted due to global warming, but this study analysed data on over 2 000 species to get a more comprehensive picture.

In this analysis, researchers found that on average, wildlife moved to higher elevations at the rate of about 12m per decade.

They are moving toward the poles at an average rate of 16.6km a decade, scientists reported in the journal Science.

The altitude shift is twice what scientists had estimated as recently as 2003, according to Chris Thomas, a professor of conservation biology at the University of York in Britain, and the leader of the project.

Key finding

The average latitude shift is triple earlier estimates, Thomas said in a telephone interview. But he noted that not all species move toward the poles as quickly as that, some don't move much at all and others actually move slightly toward the Equator, depending on what they need most to survive.

What became clear in this study, Thomas and the other authors said, was that species moved furthest in places where the climate warmed most, an unambiguous link to climate change over the last 40 years.

The key finding, Thomas said, was the "huge diversity of responses" observed in different plants and different locations.

"Because each species is affected by different things... when the climate changes, they will have different availabilities of new habitat that they might be able to move into," he said.

Not every animal or plant shifts to a cooler place when its habitat heats up, because of pressure from other factors like rainfall, human development and habitat loss.

For example, a British butterfly, the high brown fritillary butterfly, might have been expected to move northward if the only factor affecting it was climate warming. Instead, the species declined because its habitats were lost, the researchers reported.

But the comma butterfly was able to make the leap from central England to Edinburgh, a distance of about 220km, in two decades.

In Borneo, moths shifted 67m upward on Mount Kinabalu, the study found. This area has been protected for more than 40 years, so habitat destruction was not a factor in the move, Thomas said.

Because of different species diverse reactions, he said: "It's very hard to predict what an individual species is going to do... and that means that if you want to manage the world in some way, save species or whatever, unfortunately it looks as though a lot of detailed information is going to be required... in order to take practical action."

  • HowardX - 2011-08-19 10:10

    Sounds like a whole lot of anecdotal reports constructed to support the erroneous man made global warming theory. The unfortunate fact for the climate alarmists is that the (unadulterated) temperature trend for the last decade is downward.

      CapeTownJunk - 2011-08-19 10:13

      Citation needed.

      daaivark - 2011-08-19 10:19

      So bright boy Howard, how would you care top explain the fact that climate behaviour the world over has gone completely awry over the past few years?

      daaivark - 2011-08-19 10:19

      sorry, not "top" but "to". Hasty fingers.

      Texxx - 2011-08-19 13:21

      hahaha Howard is so silly.....

      Andrew - 2011-08-19 14:26

      @CapeTownJunk..I think the IPCC data itself may even show this - it depends on when you start and end the decade - stats .... lies,damned lies and then there's statistics...

      Andrew - 2011-08-19 14:38

      @daaivark.... how do you define awry? We've had cold wet winters in Cape Town consistent with a La Ninja event followed by the last two warm dry ones consistent with an incoming El Ninjo.. we are only now developing the science of understanding the climate - it's very new science but we're getting much better. just check out the accuracy of some internet site weather reports! What you perceive to be the "climate going awry" is, I would suggest, merely a reflection of our ability to so graphically project these "climatic events" onto your TV. human beings have very short memories and we have very inaccurate climate records....

      CTScientist - 2011-08-19 19:12

      @Andrew: Very *inaccurate* climate records? Uh.. are you serious? Europe alone has thousands of cores with extremely well dated and reliable climate records derived from d13C and d18O isotope records! Do you even bother to read the scientific outputs from climatologists? Have you read a paleoclimate report? In addition, the current climate does not fit the "natural wobble" model in the slightest. Stager (2011) points out, correctly, that our current CO4 count of 387 ppm and 1.8ppm methane are higher than any levels in recorded as well as paleoclimatic history! The closest analogy we have is the Eemian interglacial 117 thousand years ago where CO4 was only 300 ppm and methane was 0.7-0.8 ppm. We're having a profound impact on our environment and this is NOT 'natural' in any sense of the word! @HowardX: The erroneous mad made global warming theory? Are you telling me that you think there is absolutely no anthropocentric factors resulting in the high CO4 ppm and methane ppm concentrations in the biosphere? You are an idiot if you sincerely believe that. These high concentrations (ask any accredited climatologist) have profound impacts on the climate. Impacts that have no analogue anywhere, ever. It is really important that people realise that these are emissions that, we know, will reach between 550 and 600 ppm CO4 within the next twenty years. These will cause dramatic changes to fauna and flora, as well as our climate. This isn't a hoax. We have no past analogue..

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