Global warming: Island biodiversity at risk

These atolls in the Maldives are only about 1 meter above sea level. Learn more at this NASA Earth Observatory website.

More than 10,000 islands will be completely inundated by the end of the century

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Low-lying tropical islands harboring a disproportionately high percentage of the world’s biodiversity are also vulnerable to rising seas. With most climate models conservatively estimating that sea level will rise between 2 and six feet by the end of the century, some biodiversity hotspots could be completely lost, according to a new study from researchers with the University of Paris Sud.

“Losses of insular habitats will … be relatively important in the future, probably leading to a major impoverishment of insular biodiversity,” said lead author Dr. C. Bellard. ” Given the implications of these results, decision-makers are required to define island conservation priorities that accounts for sea level rise following climate change,” he added.

With many endemic species, island ecosystems may harbor as much as 20 percent of the world’s total biodiversity, yet there hasn’t been a thorough global assessment of of the consequences of sea rising is available for island ecosystems. The scientists surveyed 1,269 islands from different areas once controlled by France. The French maritime domain is ranked as the second most important in the world, with the islands holding encompassing a large proportion of the world’s biodiversity. The study found that New Caledonia and French Polynesia are the most vulnerable to sea level rise.

Research shows that 5 percent of the islands could be completely inundated if sea level rises by three feet. This figure climbs to 8 percent and 11 percent in the more pessimistic scenarios, respectively, for 2 and 3 meters of sea level rise.

Assuming that French islands are representative of worldwide islands, roughly 10,800 islands could be entirely lost in the 1 meter scenario, the most optimistic one.

For the New Caledonia hotspot, under the worst scenario, up to 6.8 percent of the islands could be half submerged. Speaking in terms of biodiversity loss, this indicates endemic plant species that are already at risk of extinction will be the most vulnerable to sea level rise.

This work was funded by Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR).


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