Even though human-caused climate change has yet to lift average global temperatures by more than 1C, it’s already stamping out biodiversity around the globe. A new study by Dr. John Wiens of the University of Arizona has recently revealed that significant local extinctions have already happened to just under half of the 976 species monitored due to climate change.
Adaptation to a specific environment is driven by natural selection and is a key component of evolution – individuals that can best exploit their habitat will be more likely to survive and reproduce. This means that over long periods of time a species will become well-suited to fit a certain climatic niche. Sudden changes in their environment force species to either adapt or go extinct.
Dr. John Wiens’ research involved an analysis of a large selection of previously gathered data on how animal populations shifted over time in different locations and found that the speed at which the environment is changing outpaces a lot of species’ ability to adapt, leading to local extinctions. His study concluded that this trend is consistent across all climatic zones and is especially pronounced in the tropics. Since average global temperatures are set to rise another 1-4C over the next century, this could be very dire news for global biodiversity.
His research did, however, highlight another avenue species take to lessen the impact of sudden climate change – migration. If possible, a species will move towards higher altitudes and latitudes – places which had previously been outside of their climatic niche but that might have become more tenable due to global warming.
Removing the barriers to animal migration could therefore be the only way to stave off mass extinction in the coming decades as currently their movement is highly impeded by infrastructure, agriculture and human settlements. Wildlife underpasses, ‘ecoducts’ and other architectural ways aimed at lessening human impact on animal movement have already been widely implemented across the globe and Dr. Wiens’ paper highlights the importance for governments to further pursue these initiatives.