March 23, 2011
Analyzing distribution of dung beetles in tropical South America, Trond Larsen of Conservation International (CI) found that dung beetles — a group of insects widely used as a proxy for broader biodiversity trends due to their wide distribution — are moving to higher elevations as deforestation causes local climate change, specifically warmer and drier conditions.
Males of this dung beetle species (Phanaeus chalcomelas) use horns as weapons during fierce battles over mates. © Conservation International/photo by Trond Larsen
Dung beetles (Oruscatus davus) on horse dung in the high Andes. Dung beetles are key players in recycling animal dung and nutrients into the soil, regulating parasites, and dispersing seeds. © Conservation International/photo by Trond Larsen
The findings, which are consistent with other research showing that global climate change is driving species to move to higher latitudes and elevations, raises concern that "land-use change may both confound and compound the influence of global climate change on biodiversity," writes Larsen.
"Synergies between habitat degradation and climate change could more than double previous range shift projections for this century, leading to unexpectedly rapid changes in biodiversity, especially for sensitive organisms such as tropical insects."
In other words, biologists may be "underestimating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem health, especially in human-modified landscapes," according to CI.
Trond H. Larsen (2011). "Upslope Range Shifts of Andean Dung Beetles in Response to Deforestation: Compounding and Confounding Effects of Microclimatic Change." BIOTROPICA: 1–8 2011 10.1111/j.1744-7429.2011.00768.x
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