Even as concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human history last week, a new study in Nature Climate Change warns that thousands of the world’s common species will suffer grave habitat loss under climate change.
“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,” says lead author Rachel Warren from UEA’s school of Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
Looking at the habitat requirement so of 48,786 common land plant and animal species, scientists found that 34% of animals and 57% of plants will see over half of their habitat lost by 2080 if temperatures rise 4 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average. According to the study, plants, reptiles, and amphibians are the most vulnerable, while the Amazon, Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Australia are expected to be the hardest hit.
Even worse, Warren says the estimates are “probably conservative” since they didn’t take into account rising extreme weather, disease, and pests, adding that “animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.”
Such catastrophic losses would have a major impact on humans as “these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism,” according to Warren.
While nations have pledged to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius, that goal appears increasingly elusive as global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise year-after-year. If business as usual continues, temperatures could rise well above 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
However, the study also finds that if nations keep their current goals on climate change (i.e. temperatures don’t rise above 2 degrees Celsius) than the loss to common species would be mitigated significantly. But time is not on our side: if emissions peak in 2016, losses to species would be reduced by 60 percent, while waiting until 2030 would mean losses reduced by only 40 percent.
Unidentified red caterpillar in the Amazon. The new study finds that Amazonian wildlife will be hit especially hard by climate change. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
CITATIONS: Warren R, van der Wal J, Price J, Welbergen JA, Atkinson I, Ramirez-Villegas J, Osborn TJ, Jarvis A, Shoo L, Williams S and Lowe J. Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity loss. Nature Climate Change
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