Local climate shifts caused by deforestation and land cover change are causing insects to migrate to higher — and cooler — habitats, reports a new study published in the journal Biotropica. The research has implications for predicting how species will respond to climate change.
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
In deforested areas dung beetle species moved upslope an average of 132 meters (433 feet) relative to their normal elevational distribution. Several of the species that shifted to higher elevations range contractions or population declines at the lower end of their range boundary.
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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(03/21/2007) Extinction is a hotly debated, but poorly understood topic in science. The same goes for climate change. When scientists try to forecast the impact of global change on future biodiversity levels, the results are contentious, to say the least. While some argue that species have managed to survive worse climate change in the past and that current threats to biodiversity are overstated, many biologists say the impacts of climate change and resulting shifts in rainfall, temperature, sea levels, ecosystem composition, and food availability will have significant effects on global species richness.
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