Many species trying to move up in elevation or to higher latitudes to find suitable habitat
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Many animals and plants aren’t just sitting still in the face of a changing climate.
New research by University of York biologists shows that species are responding to a warming planet by moving up in elevation and to higher latitudes — where conditions are cooler — at rates three times faster than previously believed.
The research team analyzed data showing climate change responses for more than 2,000 species, finding that, on average, they have moved to higher elevations at 12.2 meters per decade and, more dramatically, to higher latitudes at 17.6 kilometers per decade.
“These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the equator at around 20 cm per hour, for every hour of the day, for every day of the year. This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of this century,” said project leader Chris Thomas, a professor of conservation biology at the University.
This study for the first time showed that species have moved farthest in regions where the climate has warmed the most, unambiguously linking the changes in where species survive to climate warming during the last 40 years.
“This research shows that it is global warming that is causing species to move towards the poles and to higher elevations,” said author Dr I-Ching Chen, previously a PhD student at York and now a researcher at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. “We have for the first time shown that the amount by which the distributions of species have changed is correlated with the amount the climate has changed in that region.”
“We were able to calculate how far species might have been expected to move so that the temperatures they experience today are the same as the ones they used to experience, before global warming kicked in. Remarkably, species have on average moved towards the poles as rapidly as expected,” said co-author Dr Ralf Ohlemüller, from Durham University.
Individual species showed much greater variation. Some species have moved much more slowly than expected, others have not moved, and some have even retreated where they are expected to expand. In contrast, other species have raced ahead, perhaps because they are sensitive to a particular component of climate change (rather than to average warming), or because other changes to the environment have also been driving their responses.
Co-author Dr David Roy, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, illustrated this variation among species: “In Britain, the high brown fritillary butterfly might have been expected to expand northwards into Scotland if climate warming was the only thing affecting it, but it has in fact declined because its habitats have been lost. Meanwhile, the comma butterfly has moved 220 kilometres northwards from central England to Edinburgh, in only two decades.”
Similar variation has taken place in other animal groups. Cetti’s warbler, a small brown bird with a loud voice, moved northwards in Britain by 150 kilometres during the same period when the Cirl bunting retreated southward by 120 kilometres, the latter experiencing a major decline associated with the intensification of agriculture.
The researchers brought together all of the known studies of how species have changed their distributions, and analyzed them together in a “meta-analysis”. The changes that were studied include species retreating where conditions are getting too hot (at low altitudes and latitudes), species expanding where conditions are no longer too cold (at high altitude and latitudes), and species staying where they are but with numbers declining in hotter parts and increasing in cooler parts of the range.
They considered studies of latitudinal and elevational range shifts from throughout the world, but most of the available data were from Europe and North America.
Birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, spiders, other invertebrates, and plants featured in the evidence. For example, I-Ching Chen and her colleagues discovered that moths had on average moved 67 meters uphill on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo.
The research does not explicitly consider the risks posed to species from climate change, but previous studies suggest that climate change represents a serious extinction risk to at least 10 per cent of the world’s species.
Filed under: biodiversity, Colorado, Environment, global warming, Summit County Colorado, Summit County news, wildlife Tagged: | climate change, Environment, global warming, Mount Kinabalu, Summit County News, York University