Tag Archives: Extinction

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Human growth robs other species of space

As human growth adds to our numbers and demands, other species’ survival chances shrink. Scientists can now name 1,700 creatures at ever greater risk.

LONDON, 11 March, 2019 − There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a metre high at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

“It is often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans …”

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food,  medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilisation is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. US researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use – a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on − in the next 50 years.

Shared responsibility

And they identified 1,700 species that, even with moderate changes in land use, will lose roughly a third to a half of their present habitat by 2070. This total includes 886 species of amphibian, 436 kinds of bird and 376 mammals. And this loss of living space accentuates the hazard to their lives and futures.

Many animal citizens of Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk. And, the authors warn, even though such losses would happen in national territories and involve species with limited range, the responsibility for their loss would be global.

“Losses in species populations can irreversibly hamper the functioning of ecosystems and human quality of life,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the authors.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally. It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.” − Climate News Network

As human growth adds to our numbers and demands, other species’ survival chances shrink. Scientists can now name 1,700 creatures at ever greater risk.

LONDON, 11 March, 2019 − There is only one Earth, but human growth is ensuring that it carries steadily more passengers. And that leaves less and less room for humanity’s companions on board the planet.

The Nile lechwe is an antelope that lives in the swamps of Ethiopia and South Sudan. Its Linnaean name is Kobus megaceros and it stands a metre high at the shoulders so you couldn’t miss it. Except that you could.

That is because it is one of at least 1,700 species identified by biologists to be at risk from human action: quite simply, as humans take an ever-greater share of animal living space, the animals’ chances of survival dwindle rapidly.

So the Nile lechwe joins the Lombok cross frog of Indonesia (Oreophryne monticola) and the curve-billed reedhaunter (Limnornis curvirostris) that lives in the marshes of north-east Argentina to be at risk of extinction by 2070, simply because humankind will intrude on at least half of their geographic ranges.

“It is often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans …”

Biologists, conservationists and climate scientists have been warning for decades that the dangerous combination of human population growth and climate change driven by human-induced global warming puts whole ecosystems at risk, and will hasten the extinction of many species that are already shrinking in numbers.

These include many that underwrite the provision of food,  medicine, fabric for the world’s cities and air and water purification systems on which human civilisation is founded.

Most such warnings have been based on projections of economic growth, urban demand and climate change. US researchers approached the challenge in a different way.

They report in Nature Climate Change that they collected data on the geographic distributions of 19,400 species and combined this with four different projections of future changes in land use – a euphemism for scorched or felled forest, drained swamp, ploughed grassland and so on − in the next 50 years.

Shared responsibility

And they identified 1,700 species that, even with moderate changes in land use, will lose roughly a third to a half of their present habitat by 2070. This total includes 886 species of amphibian, 436 kinds of bird and 376 mammals. And this loss of living space accentuates the hazard to their lives and futures.

Many animal citizens of Central and East Africa, Mesoamerica, South America and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk. And, the authors warn, even though such losses would happen in national territories and involve species with limited range, the responsibility for their loss would be global.

“Losses in species populations can irreversibly hamper the functioning of ecosystems and human quality of life,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the authors.

“While biodiversity erosion in far-away parts of the planet may not seem to affect us directly, its consequences for human livelihood can reverberate globally. It is also often the far-away demand that drives these losses – think tropical hardwoods, palm oil or soybeans – thus making us all co-responsible.” − Climate News Network

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Carbon dioxide triggered ancient mass die-off

The biggest extinction ever known on Earth resulted from oceans turned acid by CO2, the main gas driving human-caused climate change today. LONDON, 16 April, 2015 − Scientists have identified the lethal agency that caused the single most catastrophic event in the history of life on Earth. The mass extinction at the boundary of the Permian and Triassic eras 252 million years ago was caused by the acidification of the world’s oceans, as a consequence of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The Permian Extinction – sometimes called “the Great Dying” – seemed to all but obliterate life in the oceans, and perhaps on land. More than 90% of all species disappeared, more than 80% of all genera, and more than 50% of all marine families were extinguished in one prolonged calamity. All life on Earth today has descended from the few survivors of this far-off episode. Palaeontologists, geologists, climate scientists and astronomers have all speculated on the probable cause. The latest and most confident analysis is based on a new study of ancient marine sediments and delivers obvious parallels with processes that are – for different reasons − occurring again today. Matthew Clarkson of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (but now at the University of Otago in New Zealand) and colleagues report in the journal Science that they examined limestone from the United Arab Emirates and found, in the isotope ratios of the element boron, evidence of ocean acidity in carbonate rocks that were laid down as sediment at the bottom of the ocean 250 million years ago. A change in the isotope ratios, they calculated, would have indicated a significant shift in seawater chemistry.

“This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions”

Over the last 40 years, researchers have introduced a whole suite of plausible triggers for the Permian extinction, but at last one team had clear evidence of increased atmospheric carbon, probably from a prolonged and convulsive series of volcanic eruptions that gave rise to vast, ancient geological formations now known as the Siberian Traps. “Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now”, said Dr Clarkson. “This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.” There has been recent evidence that this present change in the pH of ocean waters (pH is a measure of its acidity) as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion in the last two centuries has already disturbed the behaviour of some fish species, threatened to affect oyster fisheries and coral reefs, and even to alter whole ocean ecosystems. The changes in the Permian were not sudden: ecosystems already seriously under stress because of lack of oxygen or rising temperatures were then dramatically affected by discharges of carbon dioxide that were probably much greater than all the modern world’s existing fossil fuel reserves could deliver. As the oceans became more acidic, many species were extinguished forever: among them the trilobites. The whole chain of events took 60,000 years. Humans have been burning fossil fuels for only 200 years, but, the researchers point out, in the Permian crisis, carbon was probably being released into the atmosphere at the rate of about 2.4 billion tons a year. Right now, humans are estimated to be releasing carbon from fossil fuels at the rate of 10 billion tons a year. − Climate News Network

The biggest extinction ever known on Earth resulted from oceans turned acid by CO2, the main gas driving human-caused climate change today. LONDON, 16 April, 2015 − Scientists have identified the lethal agency that caused the single most catastrophic event in the history of life on Earth. The mass extinction at the boundary of the Permian and Triassic eras 252 million years ago was caused by the acidification of the world’s oceans, as a consequence of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The Permian Extinction – sometimes called “the Great Dying” – seemed to all but obliterate life in the oceans, and perhaps on land. More than 90% of all species disappeared, more than 80% of all genera, and more than 50% of all marine families were extinguished in one prolonged calamity. All life on Earth today has descended from the few survivors of this far-off episode. Palaeontologists, geologists, climate scientists and astronomers have all speculated on the probable cause. The latest and most confident analysis is based on a new study of ancient marine sediments and delivers obvious parallels with processes that are – for different reasons − occurring again today. Matthew Clarkson of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland (but now at the University of Otago in New Zealand) and colleagues report in the journal Science that they examined limestone from the United Arab Emirates and found, in the isotope ratios of the element boron, evidence of ocean acidity in carbonate rocks that were laid down as sediment at the bottom of the ocean 250 million years ago. A change in the isotope ratios, they calculated, would have indicated a significant shift in seawater chemistry.

“This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions”

Over the last 40 years, researchers have introduced a whole suite of plausible triggers for the Permian extinction, but at last one team had clear evidence of increased atmospheric carbon, probably from a prolonged and convulsive series of volcanic eruptions that gave rise to vast, ancient geological formations now known as the Siberian Traps. “Scientists have long suspected that an ocean acidification event occurred during the greatest mass extinction of all time, but direct evidence has been lacking until now”, said Dr Clarkson. “This is a worrying finding, considering that we can already see an increase in ocean acidity today that is the result of human carbon emissions.” There has been recent evidence that this present change in the pH of ocean waters (pH is a measure of its acidity) as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion in the last two centuries has already disturbed the behaviour of some fish species, threatened to affect oyster fisheries and coral reefs, and even to alter whole ocean ecosystems. The changes in the Permian were not sudden: ecosystems already seriously under stress because of lack of oxygen or rising temperatures were then dramatically affected by discharges of carbon dioxide that were probably much greater than all the modern world’s existing fossil fuel reserves could deliver. As the oceans became more acidic, many species were extinguished forever: among them the trilobites. The whole chain of events took 60,000 years. Humans have been burning fossil fuels for only 200 years, but, the researchers point out, in the Permian crisis, carbon was probably being released into the atmosphere at the rate of about 2.4 billion tons a year. Right now, humans are estimated to be releasing carbon from fossil fuels at the rate of 10 billion tons a year. − Climate News Network

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Climate change 'raises extinction risk'

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Climate change doesn’t pose a unique threat of extinction to a species, scientists say. It just makes the risk more likely to become a reality.

LONDON, 28 February – Environmental scientists believe they have a blueprint for extinction. They report in Nature Climate Change that they have identified those factors that might make a species more likely to slip away into eternal oblivion as the planet warms and climate conditions change.

It turns out that they knew them all along. There is, the researchers conclude, nothing specifically different about climate change as a threat: it could however make extinction much more likely.

Richard Pearson of University College London (and formerly of the American Museum of Natural History) and colleagues decided to take a small subset of species at risk, and look closely at the factors that determine species extinction.

They chose 36 amphibians and reptiles endemic to the United States. Reptiles and amphibians almost everywhere seem to be vulnerable for a mix of reasons: among them habitat destruction, environmental pollution and the introduction of new predators and new diseases. The more exquisite the ecological niche occupied by the species, the smaller its overall population and the more precarious its chances of survival.

The researchers examined all the information available on salamanders, turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards and concluded that, overall, there was a 28% chance of extinction by 2100. But without climate change, this risk dwindled to 1%.

“Surprisingly, we found that the most important factors – such as having a small range or low population size – are already used in conservation assessments,” said Dr Pearson. “The new results indicate that current systems may be able to better identify species vulnerability to climate change than previously thought.”

Carry on conserving

And his co-author Resit Akçakaya of Stony Brook University in the US said: “The bad news is that climate change will cause many extinctions unless species-specific conservation actions are taken; but the good news is that the methods conservation organisations have been using to identify which species need the most urgent help also work when climate change is the main threat.”

So to preserve biodiversity conservationists have to do what many are doing already: focus on species that occupy a small or dwindling space, or are few in number.

Other predictions of future extinction under climate change have usually been based on the rate at which habitat with the right climate will shift or contract, and researchers have been more concerned with how easily species can adapt or migrate and why some species do better than others at shifting to new ground.

In the latest research, the scientists selected a class of animals but did not try to make individual predictions for each species: what they were looking for were general principles.

“Our analysis will hopefully be able to help create better guidelines that account for the effects of climate change in assessing extinction risk,” said Dr Pearson. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Climate change doesn’t pose a unique threat of extinction to a species, scientists say. It just makes the risk more likely to become a reality.

LONDON, 28 February – Environmental scientists believe they have a blueprint for extinction. They report in Nature Climate Change that they have identified those factors that might make a species more likely to slip away into eternal oblivion as the planet warms and climate conditions change.

It turns out that they knew them all along. There is, the researchers conclude, nothing specifically different about climate change as a threat: it could however make extinction much more likely.

Richard Pearson of University College London (and formerly of the American Museum of Natural History) and colleagues decided to take a small subset of species at risk, and look closely at the factors that determine species extinction.

They chose 36 amphibians and reptiles endemic to the United States. Reptiles and amphibians almost everywhere seem to be vulnerable for a mix of reasons: among them habitat destruction, environmental pollution and the introduction of new predators and new diseases. The more exquisite the ecological niche occupied by the species, the smaller its overall population and the more precarious its chances of survival.

The researchers examined all the information available on salamanders, turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards and concluded that, overall, there was a 28% chance of extinction by 2100. But without climate change, this risk dwindled to 1%.

“Surprisingly, we found that the most important factors – such as having a small range or low population size – are already used in conservation assessments,” said Dr Pearson. “The new results indicate that current systems may be able to better identify species vulnerability to climate change than previously thought.”

Carry on conserving

And his co-author Resit Akçakaya of Stony Brook University in the US said: “The bad news is that climate change will cause many extinctions unless species-specific conservation actions are taken; but the good news is that the methods conservation organisations have been using to identify which species need the most urgent help also work when climate change is the main threat.”

So to preserve biodiversity conservationists have to do what many are doing already: focus on species that occupy a small or dwindling space, or are few in number.

Other predictions of future extinction under climate change have usually been based on the rate at which habitat with the right climate will shift or contract, and researchers have been more concerned with how easily species can adapt or migrate and why some species do better than others at shifting to new ground.

In the latest research, the scientists selected a class of animals but did not try to make individual predictions for each species: what they were looking for were general principles.

“Our analysis will hopefully be able to help create better guidelines that account for the effects of climate change in assessing extinction risk,” said Dr Pearson. – Climate News Network

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Climate change ‘raises extinction risk’

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Climate change doesn’t pose a unique threat of extinction to a species, scientists say. It just makes the risk more likely to become a reality. LONDON, 28 February – Environmental scientists believe they have a blueprint for extinction. They report in Nature Climate Change that they have identified those factors that might make a species more likely to slip away into eternal oblivion as the planet warms and climate conditions change. It turns out that they knew them all along. There is, the researchers conclude, nothing specifically different about climate change as a threat: it could however make extinction much more likely. Richard Pearson of University College London (and formerly of the American Museum of Natural History) and colleagues decided to take a small subset of species at risk, and look closely at the factors that determine species extinction. They chose 36 amphibians and reptiles endemic to the United States. Reptiles and amphibians almost everywhere seem to be vulnerable for a mix of reasons: among them habitat destruction, environmental pollution and the introduction of new predators and new diseases. The more exquisite the ecological niche occupied by the species, the smaller its overall population and the more precarious its chances of survival. The researchers examined all the information available on salamanders, turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards and concluded that, overall, there was a 28% chance of extinction by 2100. But without climate change, this risk dwindled to 1%. “Surprisingly, we found that the most important factors – such as having a small range or low population size – are already used in conservation assessments,” said Dr Pearson. “The new results indicate that current systems may be able to better identify species vulnerability to climate change than previously thought.”

Carry on conserving

And his co-author Resit Akçakaya of Stony Brook University in the US said: “The bad news is that climate change will cause many extinctions unless species-specific conservation actions are taken; but the good news is that the methods conservation organisations have been using to identify which species need the most urgent help also work when climate change is the main threat.” So to preserve biodiversity conservationists have to do what many are doing already: focus on species that occupy a small or dwindling space, or are few in number. Other predictions of future extinction under climate change have usually been based on the rate at which habitat with the right climate will shift or contract, and researchers have been more concerned with how easily species can adapt or migrate and why some species do better than others at shifting to new ground. In the latest research, the scientists selected a class of animals but did not try to make individual predictions for each species: what they were looking for were general principles. “Our analysis will hopefully be able to help create better guidelines that account for the effects of climate change in assessing extinction risk,” said Dr Pearson. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Climate change doesn’t pose a unique threat of extinction to a species, scientists say. It just makes the risk more likely to become a reality. LONDON, 28 February – Environmental scientists believe they have a blueprint for extinction. They report in Nature Climate Change that they have identified those factors that might make a species more likely to slip away into eternal oblivion as the planet warms and climate conditions change. It turns out that they knew them all along. There is, the researchers conclude, nothing specifically different about climate change as a threat: it could however make extinction much more likely. Richard Pearson of University College London (and formerly of the American Museum of Natural History) and colleagues decided to take a small subset of species at risk, and look closely at the factors that determine species extinction. They chose 36 amphibians and reptiles endemic to the United States. Reptiles and amphibians almost everywhere seem to be vulnerable for a mix of reasons: among them habitat destruction, environmental pollution and the introduction of new predators and new diseases. The more exquisite the ecological niche occupied by the species, the smaller its overall population and the more precarious its chances of survival. The researchers examined all the information available on salamanders, turtles, tortoises, snakes and lizards and concluded that, overall, there was a 28% chance of extinction by 2100. But without climate change, this risk dwindled to 1%. “Surprisingly, we found that the most important factors – such as having a small range or low population size – are already used in conservation assessments,” said Dr Pearson. “The new results indicate that current systems may be able to better identify species vulnerability to climate change than previously thought.”

Carry on conserving

And his co-author Resit Akçakaya of Stony Brook University in the US said: “The bad news is that climate change will cause many extinctions unless species-specific conservation actions are taken; but the good news is that the methods conservation organisations have been using to identify which species need the most urgent help also work when climate change is the main threat.” So to preserve biodiversity conservationists have to do what many are doing already: focus on species that occupy a small or dwindling space, or are few in number. Other predictions of future extinction under climate change have usually been based on the rate at which habitat with the right climate will shift or contract, and researchers have been more concerned with how easily species can adapt or migrate and why some species do better than others at shifting to new ground. In the latest research, the scientists selected a class of animals but did not try to make individual predictions for each species: what they were looking for were general principles. “Our analysis will hopefully be able to help create better guidelines that account for the effects of climate change in assessing extinction risk,” said Dr Pearson. – Climate News Network

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Warming bad for life in freshwater lakes and rivers

For immediate release On both sides of the Atlantic scientists studying lakes have discovered they are warming – and this is bad news both for water quality and the fish. London, 14 June – The Alpine lakes of Austria are warming up. By 2050, their surface waters could be up to 3°C warmer, according to new research in the journal Hydrobiologia. Martin Dokulil of the Institute for Limnology at the University of Innsbruck studied data from nine lakes larger than 10km2. The largest, Bodensee or Lake Constance, touches Austria’s border with Germany and Switzerland to the west; 800 kms to the east, Neusiedler See borders Germany and Hungary. The nine lakes range from 254 to 1.8 metres maximum depth and they are vital to Austria’s tourist industry: they play powerful roles in the Alpine ecosystem and they are of course reservoirs of water. But the Alpine valleys are warming: between 1980 and 1999 the region warmed at three times the global average and by 2050 the median temperatures for the region could have risen by 3.5°C. The challenge has been to anticipate the impact of global warming on the lakes. “The predicted changes in surface water temperatures will affect the thermal characteristics of the lakes,” says Dr Dokulil. “Warmer water temperatures could lead to enhanced nutrient loads and affect water quality by promoting algal blooms and impairing the biological functions of aquatic organisms. “Significant increases in summer temperatures will affect the carbon cycling in the lakes, with potential consequences on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and the Earth’s climate.”  Next, the fish The Austrian research so far is concerned only with freshwater temperatures. Peter Moyle, a biologist at the University of California Davis, has been more concerned with the freshwater fish that make their homes in, or migrate to, California’s rivers and lakes. He and colleagues report in the journal PLOS One – the Public Library of Science – that if current climate trends continue, then 82 per cent of California’s native fish could be extinct, and their native homes colonized by invasive species. The scientists looked at 121 native species and found that four fifths of them were likely to be driven to extinction or at least to very low numbers. These include prized sporting fish such as the Klamath River summer steelhead and other trout, the Central Valley Chinook salmon, the Central Coast coho salmon and many others that depend on cold water. “These fish are part of the endemic flora and fauna that makes California such a special place,” said Prof Moyle. “As we lose these fishes, we lose their environments and are much poorer for it.” – Climate News Network        

For immediate release On both sides of the Atlantic scientists studying lakes have discovered they are warming – and this is bad news both for water quality and the fish. London, 14 June – The Alpine lakes of Austria are warming up. By 2050, their surface waters could be up to 3°C warmer, according to new research in the journal Hydrobiologia. Martin Dokulil of the Institute for Limnology at the University of Innsbruck studied data from nine lakes larger than 10km2. The largest, Bodensee or Lake Constance, touches Austria’s border with Germany and Switzerland to the west; 800 kms to the east, Neusiedler See borders Germany and Hungary. The nine lakes range from 254 to 1.8 metres maximum depth and they are vital to Austria’s tourist industry: they play powerful roles in the Alpine ecosystem and they are of course reservoirs of water. But the Alpine valleys are warming: between 1980 and 1999 the region warmed at three times the global average and by 2050 the median temperatures for the region could have risen by 3.5°C. The challenge has been to anticipate the impact of global warming on the lakes. “The predicted changes in surface water temperatures will affect the thermal characteristics of the lakes,” says Dr Dokulil. “Warmer water temperatures could lead to enhanced nutrient loads and affect water quality by promoting algal blooms and impairing the biological functions of aquatic organisms. “Significant increases in summer temperatures will affect the carbon cycling in the lakes, with potential consequences on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and the Earth’s climate.”  Next, the fish The Austrian research so far is concerned only with freshwater temperatures. Peter Moyle, a biologist at the University of California Davis, has been more concerned with the freshwater fish that make their homes in, or migrate to, California’s rivers and lakes. He and colleagues report in the journal PLOS One – the Public Library of Science – that if current climate trends continue, then 82 per cent of California’s native fish could be extinct, and their native homes colonized by invasive species. The scientists looked at 121 native species and found that four fifths of them were likely to be driven to extinction or at least to very low numbers. These include prized sporting fish such as the Klamath River summer steelhead and other trout, the Central Valley Chinook salmon, the Central Coast coho salmon and many others that depend on cold water. “These fish are part of the endemic flora and fauna that makes California such a special place,” said Prof Moyle. “As we lose these fishes, we lose their environments and are much poorer for it.” – Climate News Network        

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Climate Change puts even “safe” species at risk

For immediate release Work by 100 scientists over five years reveal that more than half the species studied are in danger because of a warming planet. LONDON, 13 June – Climate change doesn’t just threaten species that are already vulnerable – it could have alarming consequences for a huge range of birds, corals and amphibians that no-one had considered in danger of extinction before, according to a new study. Wendy Foden of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s global species programme and colleagues examined the findings of 100 scientists over the last five years and looked for the biological and ecological characteristics that might make an animal more or less sensitive or adaptable to climate change. Many of the planet’s birds, corals and amphibians are already threatened with extinction, often because of unsustainable logging, the growth of agriculture and so on, and climate change is likely to make their plight even more precarious. But unexpectedly, the authors report in the journal PLOS One – the Public Library of Science  – that they also found that 83% of the birds, 66% of the amphibians and 70% of the corals highly vulnerable to climate change, are not, right now, considered to be in need of conservation measures. Alarming surprises The study focused on the three taxonomic groups because all three have been well studied – naturalists have described 9,856 species of bird; 6204 species of amphibian and 797 reef building corals and the fact that they can be numbered so precisely is an indicator of the attention paid to these groups – and because they contain creatures that dwell on land, in freshwater and in the oceans: the three great “biomes” or homes for life. “The findings reveal alarming surprises,” said Foden. “We hadn’t expected that so many species and areas that were not previously considered to be of concern would emerge as highly vulnerable to climate change. “Clearly, if we simply carry on with conservation as usual, without taking climate change into account, we’ll fail to help many of the species and areas that need it most.” Her IUCN colleague and co-author Jean-Christophe Vié called the research “a leap forward” for conservation.  Besides providing a clearer picture of the challenge, he said “we now also know the biological characteristics that create their climate change ‘weak points’. This gives us an enormous advantage in meeting their conservation needs.” Resources disappear That climate change due to human-induced greenhouse greenhouse gas emissions presents a threat to other species is not of itself news: Climate Network News stories have almost every month highlighted hazards to humans and mammals, to figs and fig wasps, to species caught in swiftly-moving climate zones, and to those sub-Arctic plants and animals that actually depend on snowfall to offer some sort of stable cover for the winter. But there has always been a tacit assumption that the first victims of changing climate would be among those species already at risk: the IUCN’s Red List number 20,000 of these. The new maps of areas at risk now suggest that the problems of conservation extend much wider. The Amazon region hosts the highest concentrations of vulnerable birds and amphibians, and the “coral triangle” of the central Indo-West Pacific is home to the highest numbers of vulnerable corals. A separate study of the so-called Albertine Rift – the western part of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley – has already listed plants and animals most likely to decline because of climate change: these include 33 plants used for fuel, construction, food and medicine and 19 species of freshwater fish and 24 mammals used by humans as sources of food. Jamie Carr of the IUCN said “This is particularly important for the poorest and most marginalised communities who rely most directly on wild species to meet their basic needs.” – Climate News Network

For immediate release Work by 100 scientists over five years reveal that more than half the species studied are in danger because of a warming planet. LONDON, 13 June – Climate change doesn’t just threaten species that are already vulnerable – it could have alarming consequences for a huge range of birds, corals and amphibians that no-one had considered in danger of extinction before, according to a new study. Wendy Foden of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s global species programme and colleagues examined the findings of 100 scientists over the last five years and looked for the biological and ecological characteristics that might make an animal more or less sensitive or adaptable to climate change. Many of the planet’s birds, corals and amphibians are already threatened with extinction, often because of unsustainable logging, the growth of agriculture and so on, and climate change is likely to make their plight even more precarious. But unexpectedly, the authors report in the journal PLOS One – the Public Library of Science  – that they also found that 83% of the birds, 66% of the amphibians and 70% of the corals highly vulnerable to climate change, are not, right now, considered to be in need of conservation measures. Alarming surprises The study focused on the three taxonomic groups because all three have been well studied – naturalists have described 9,856 species of bird; 6204 species of amphibian and 797 reef building corals and the fact that they can be numbered so precisely is an indicator of the attention paid to these groups – and because they contain creatures that dwell on land, in freshwater and in the oceans: the three great “biomes” or homes for life. “The findings reveal alarming surprises,” said Foden. “We hadn’t expected that so many species and areas that were not previously considered to be of concern would emerge as highly vulnerable to climate change. “Clearly, if we simply carry on with conservation as usual, without taking climate change into account, we’ll fail to help many of the species and areas that need it most.” Her IUCN colleague and co-author Jean-Christophe Vié called the research “a leap forward” for conservation.  Besides providing a clearer picture of the challenge, he said “we now also know the biological characteristics that create their climate change ‘weak points’. This gives us an enormous advantage in meeting their conservation needs.” Resources disappear That climate change due to human-induced greenhouse greenhouse gas emissions presents a threat to other species is not of itself news: Climate Network News stories have almost every month highlighted hazards to humans and mammals, to figs and fig wasps, to species caught in swiftly-moving climate zones, and to those sub-Arctic plants and animals that actually depend on snowfall to offer some sort of stable cover for the winter. But there has always been a tacit assumption that the first victims of changing climate would be among those species already at risk: the IUCN’s Red List number 20,000 of these. The new maps of areas at risk now suggest that the problems of conservation extend much wider. The Amazon region hosts the highest concentrations of vulnerable birds and amphibians, and the “coral triangle” of the central Indo-West Pacific is home to the highest numbers of vulnerable corals. A separate study of the so-called Albertine Rift – the western part of East Africa’s Great Rift Valley – has already listed plants and animals most likely to decline because of climate change: these include 33 plants used for fuel, construction, food and medicine and 19 species of freshwater fish and 24 mammals used by humans as sources of food. Jamie Carr of the IUCN said “This is particularly important for the poorest and most marginalised communities who rely most directly on wild species to meet their basic needs.” – Climate News Network

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Fast emissions cuts could save species

EMBARGOED until 1700 GMT on Sunday 12 May Acting quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could provide more time for many species to adapt to the different conditions which climate change will bring to the zones where they can survive. LONDON, 12 May – Without serious action to limit global warming, more than half of all land plants and a third of all animals could find their living space dramatically reduced later this century. That is, if global average temperatures rise by 4°C the climatic regions in which these creatures thrive will shift towards the poles, habitats will dwindle, ecosystems will alter, and ever greater numbers of species will struggle to survive in ever more constrained conditions. That’s the bad news. The somewhat less bad news is that stringent and dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could buy time: about another four decades in which humanity’s fellow species could adapt to new circumstances. Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia and colleagues in the UK, Australia and Colombia report in Nature Climate Change that they used a 21st century creation, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), based in Copenhagen, Denmark, to examine the known ranges and habitats of more than 48,000 species of plant and animal and tried to calculate how these would be affected by “business as usual” scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions. The GBIF provides access to 400 million biodiversity records from 10,000 datasets of common plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians provided by 460 research institutions around the world: the researchers sampled less than half of these. They concluded that 55% of plants and 35% of animals could have their climatically suitable range at least halved by the 2080s. Unrestricted growth in carbon emissions could be expected to result in large contractions of range, even amongst common and widespread species. However, losses could be reduced by 60% if, through mitigation policies, the growth in emissions is halted in 2016 or by 40% if halted in 2030.

Sheltering snow

  The proposition that global warming provides a threat to other species of creature is not new, and should not be surprising. In April researchers warned that climatic zones would shift rapidly as temperatures soar. Rare plant species in high mountain regions at the limit of their temperature range can hardly migrate downhill when conditions become uncomfortably warm. Coral reefs in the tropics provide shelter and habitat for a huge range of species, but if the corals bleach as the seas warm, then rarer species could vanish altogether. The loss of Arctic sea ice, notoriously, puts large terrestrial predators such as the polar bear at a disadvantage. If rainforests begin to parch, then the rare species that make their homes there will become even rarer. In January 2004, Chris Thomas of the University of Leeds and colleagues reported in Nature that climate change could provide stresses that could put at risk the survival of up to a million species: a quarter of all land plants and animals could face oblivion by 2050. A new report, just published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, looks at the effect of climate change on what the authors call “the subnivium”: that ecosystem composed of plants and animals that sit out the worst of winter under a sheltering blanket of snow. The spring melt now occurs on average two weeks earlier, and northern hemisphere snow cover in March and April has diminished on average by more than three million square kilometres, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This apparent mellowing of conditions is in fact bad news for reptiles than can survive buried in the snow, but not, for instance, exposed to biting winds, sudden late frosts and blizzards; plants too that begin to grow too early can be killed off or diminished by the return of harsh conditions. Snow offers a stable micro-environment in which insects, reptiles, mammals and plants are at least safe from sudden change. If the snow retreats too soon, then plants and animals perish, and migrating bird species that depend on a diet of spring insects are also at risk.

Buying time

  “There are thresholds beyond which some organisms just won’t be able to make a living”, says the lead author, Jonathan Paul, a forest ecologist. “The subnivium provides a stable environment, but it is also extremely delicate. Once that snow melts, things can change radically.” But this, once again, is research about the impact of global warming on creatures that already survive under precarious conditions. Many creatures are at risk of extinction simply because of loss of habitat, pollution, hunting, overfishing and the conversion of wilderness to agricultural lands, and all the other consequences of rapid human population growth:  global warming is just another potential stress for an already endangered animal or plant. Rachel Warren’s study in Nature Climate Change makes no predictions about extinction: it simply looks at what warming could do to climatic habitats. Her argument is simply that by cutting emissions immediately and slowing warming during this century to 2°C, these losses could be reduced, and could buy another four decades for species to adapt to the next 2°C rise. “While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species”, she says. “Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale diversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.” – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 1700 GMT on Sunday 12 May Acting quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could provide more time for many species to adapt to the different conditions which climate change will bring to the zones where they can survive. LONDON, 12 May – Without serious action to limit global warming, more than half of all land plants and a third of all animals could find their living space dramatically reduced later this century. That is, if global average temperatures rise by 4°C the climatic regions in which these creatures thrive will shift towards the poles, habitats will dwindle, ecosystems will alter, and ever greater numbers of species will struggle to survive in ever more constrained conditions. That’s the bad news. The somewhat less bad news is that stringent and dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could buy time: about another four decades in which humanity’s fellow species could adapt to new circumstances. Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia and colleagues in the UK, Australia and Colombia report in Nature Climate Change that they used a 21st century creation, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), based in Copenhagen, Denmark, to examine the known ranges and habitats of more than 48,000 species of plant and animal and tried to calculate how these would be affected by “business as usual” scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions. The GBIF provides access to 400 million biodiversity records from 10,000 datasets of common plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians provided by 460 research institutions around the world: the researchers sampled less than half of these. They concluded that 55% of plants and 35% of animals could have their climatically suitable range at least halved by the 2080s. Unrestricted growth in carbon emissions could be expected to result in large contractions of range, even amongst common and widespread species. However, losses could be reduced by 60% if, through mitigation policies, the growth in emissions is halted in 2016 or by 40% if halted in 2030.

Sheltering snow

  The proposition that global warming provides a threat to other species of creature is not new, and should not be surprising. In April researchers warned that climatic zones would shift rapidly as temperatures soar. Rare plant species in high mountain regions at the limit of their temperature range can hardly migrate downhill when conditions become uncomfortably warm. Coral reefs in the tropics provide shelter and habitat for a huge range of species, but if the corals bleach as the seas warm, then rarer species could vanish altogether. The loss of Arctic sea ice, notoriously, puts large terrestrial predators such as the polar bear at a disadvantage. If rainforests begin to parch, then the rare species that make their homes there will become even rarer. In January 2004, Chris Thomas of the University of Leeds and colleagues reported in Nature that climate change could provide stresses that could put at risk the survival of up to a million species: a quarter of all land plants and animals could face oblivion by 2050. A new report, just published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, looks at the effect of climate change on what the authors call “the subnivium”: that ecosystem composed of plants and animals that sit out the worst of winter under a sheltering blanket of snow. The spring melt now occurs on average two weeks earlier, and northern hemisphere snow cover in March and April has diminished on average by more than three million square kilometres, according to a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This apparent mellowing of conditions is in fact bad news for reptiles than can survive buried in the snow, but not, for instance, exposed to biting winds, sudden late frosts and blizzards; plants too that begin to grow too early can be killed off or diminished by the return of harsh conditions. Snow offers a stable micro-environment in which insects, reptiles, mammals and plants are at least safe from sudden change. If the snow retreats too soon, then plants and animals perish, and migrating bird species that depend on a diet of spring insects are also at risk.

Buying time

  “There are thresholds beyond which some organisms just won’t be able to make a living”, says the lead author, Jonathan Paul, a forest ecologist. “The subnivium provides a stable environment, but it is also extremely delicate. Once that snow melts, things can change radically.” But this, once again, is research about the impact of global warming on creatures that already survive under precarious conditions. Many creatures are at risk of extinction simply because of loss of habitat, pollution, hunting, overfishing and the conversion of wilderness to agricultural lands, and all the other consequences of rapid human population growth:  global warming is just another potential stress for an already endangered animal or plant. Rachel Warren’s study in Nature Climate Change makes no predictions about extinction: it simply looks at what warming could do to climatic habitats. Her argument is simply that by cutting emissions immediately and slowing warming during this century to 2°C, these losses could be reduced, and could buy another four decades for species to adapt to the next 2°C rise. “While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species”, she says. “Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale diversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.” – Climate News Network