Friday, December 25, 2009

Plants and animals 'on the run' for survival

CBC News: Climate change will cause the world's ecosystems to move at an average speed of 0.42 kilometres per year... The research, published in the journal Nature, found that the projected speed of habitat shifting varies from one ecosystem to another... 'Expressed as velocities, climate-change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals. These are the conditions that will set the stage, whether species move or cope in place,' says study co-author Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution...

Legally protected areas such as parks and nature reserves may be especially vulnerable to habitat shift... The researchers estimate that only eight per cent of protected areas around the world will maintain their current climate conditions 100 years from now.

Animals 'on the run' from climate change
The Telegraph: Creatures and plants only able to tolerate a narrow range of temperatures will be most vulnerable... Those unable to match the migration speeds needed to escape the effects of global warming could vanish into extinction. Plants in almost a third of the habitats studied were thought to fall into this category... Fragmentation by human development made the situation more perilous in some areas as it left many species with 'nowhere to go.'

The researchers combined data on climate and temperature variation worldwide with projections to calculate the 'temperature velocity' for different habitats. This is a measure of how fast temperature zones are moving across the landscape as the planet warms -- and how quickly plants and animals will need to migrate to keep up.

The Guardian: The study found that global warming would have the lowest velocities in tropical and subtropical coniferous forests, where it would move at about 80 metres a year, and montane grasslands and shrublands -- a biome with grass and shrubs at high elevations -- with a projected velocity of about 110 metres each year. Global warming is expected to sweep more quickly across flatter areas, such as mangrove swamps and flooded grasslands and savannas, where it could have velocities above 1km a year. Across the world, the average velocity is 420 metres each year...

Wildlife in areas with low projected climate change velocities are not necessarily better protected... Habitats such as broadleaf forests are often small and fragmented, which makes it harder for species to move...

Global warming will cause temperatures to change so rapidly that almost a third of the globe could see climate velocities higher than even the most optimistic estimates of plant migration speeds. Some plants and animals may have to be physically moved by humans to help them cope, while protected areas must also be enlarged and joined together.

Image: A three-dimensional map of San Francisco Bay with colours representing the projected speed of habitat shift due to climate change. The speeds are slower (blue) at higher elevations. Source here.