New research by scientists has found that biodiversity on Earth actually increases as the planet warms. However, importantly, this growth is observed in the evolution of new species over millions of years and is most often accompanied by the extinction of other species.
The present trend of accelerated warming is not likely to boost global biodiversity, rather, it is set to destroy it.
Scientists from Universities of York, Glasgow and Leeds analysed fossil and geological records going back 540 million years to discover their findings. Based on an earlier study that looked at biodiversity over the same time period, this new research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), includes improved data and saw the researchers re-examine patterns of marine invertebrate biodiversity over the last 540 million years.
The researchers found that though there was evidence of increased biodiversity from warming in their study period, it was reliant upon a longer period of time and the extinction of other species.
They do not believe that the current increase in warming is likely to have any positive impact upon the planet’s biodiversity.
“The improved data give us a more secure picture of the impact of warmer temperatures on marine biodiversity and they show that, as before, there is more extinction and origination in warm geological periods,” said Lead author, Dr Peter Mayhew, of the Department of Biology at York. “But, overall, warm climates seem to boost biodiversity in the very long run, rather than reducing it.”
“The previous findings always seemed paradoxical. Ecological studies show that species richness consistently increases towards the Equator, where it is warm, yet the relationship between biodiversity and temperature through time appeared to be the opposite,” Dr Alistair McGowan, of the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, said. “Our new results reverse these conclusions and bring them into line with the ecological pattern.”
“Science progresses by constantly re-examining conclusions in the light of better data,” added Professor Tim Benton, of the Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds. “Our results seem to show that temperature improves biodiversity through time as well as across space. However, they do not suggest that current global warming is good for existing species. Increases in global diversity take millions of years, and in the meantime we expect extinctions to occur.”