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Common species will also be lost with global warming

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Even common backyard plants and animals will be affected by global warming. Bob Berwyn photo.

New study projects percent of all plant species will lose half their climatic range

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Plenty of relatively rare plants and animals have already been flagged because of threats from global warming, but even common backyard plants and animals are likely to decline this century as their climatic ranges shift.

Plants — being sessile— reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lose the most species of plants and animals. And a major loss of plant species is projected for North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe, according to new research from the University of East Anglia published May 12 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 The study looked at 50,000 globally widespread and common species and found that more than one half of the plants and one third of the animals will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080 if nothing is done to reduce the amount of global warming and slow it down.

But acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce losses by 60 per cent and buy an additional 40 years for species to adapt. This is because this mitigation would slow and then stop global temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times (1765). Without this mitigation, global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The study was led by Dr Rachel Warren from theTyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA. Collaborators include Dr Jeremy VanDerWal at James Cook University in Australia and Dr Jeff Price, from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre. The research was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

“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,” said study leader Dr. Rachel Warren, a scientist with the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.

“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems,” Warren said. “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 biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides,” she added.

The estimates of biodiversity losses may be conservative because the study looked only at the direct effect of rising temperatures without considering ancillary impacts like as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants, Warren explained.

“There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism,” she said.

Swift action to cut greenhouse gas emissions could slow the losses, giving some species time to adapt, as temperatures would rise more slowly. Up to 60 percent of the expected impacts could be mitigated by cutting emissions.

“Prompt and stringent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60 per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial. This will both reduce the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it easier for species and humans to adapt.”

Information on the current distributions of the species used in this research came from the datasets shared online by hundreds of volunteers, scientists and natural history collections through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

“Without free and open access to massive amounts of data such as those made available online through GBIF, no individual researcher is able to contact every country, every museum, every scientist holding the data and pull it all together,” said co-author Dr Jeff Price, also from UEA’s school of Environmental Studies.

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