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Climate ChangeNatureScience

Climate Change to Cause Drastic Decline in Common Plant and Animal Numbers

A new study paints a dire picture of the coming decades, showing that more than half of the common species of plant found across the planet and one third of common animal species could see a dramatic population decline if something is not done to halt global warming soon.

“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 Dr Rachel Warren from theTyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. “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.”

The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change by scientists from the University of East Anglia, analysed 50,000 species of plant and animal found commonly all over the world, and found that if something is not done to halt and reduce the climbing temperatures half their climatic range will disappear by 2080, shrinking the geographic range and biodiversity across the planet.

“Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world,” said Warren “This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.”

Amphibians like Kermit are at particular risk.
Amphibians like Kermit are at particular risk.

Of particular risk are plants and reptiles — particularly amphibians. Speaking geographically, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lost most species of plants and animals, while North Africa, Central Asia, and South-eastern Europe would see a major loss of plant species.

“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative,” said Dr. Warren. “Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.”

“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.”

“The good news is that our research provides crucial new evidence of how swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases can prevent the biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming to 2 degrees Celsius rather than 4 degrees. This would also buy time – up to four decades – for plants and animals to adapt to the remaining 2 degrees of climate change.”

Acting quickly now could reduce losses by 60%, and provide — as Dr. Warren said — 40 extra years for species to adapt to the change in global temperatures. Mitigating the warming to only 2 degrees over pre-industrial times could be a critical necessity, compared to the expected 3 degrees Celsius rise some experts are expecting by 2100.

“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.”




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