Climate Change Could Cause Abrupt Biodiversity Losses This Century

Climate Change Could Cause Abrupt Biodiversity Losses This Century GettyImages

The impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems are already evident. Poleward shifts in the geographic distributions of species, catastrophic forest fires and mass bleaching of coral reefs all bear the fingerprints of climate change.

But what will the world’s biodiversity look like in the future?

Projections indicate that unless emissions are rapidly reduced the climate crisis will get substantially worse. Up to 50% of species are forecast to lose most of their suitable climate conditions by 2100 under the highest greenhouse gas emissions scenario.

But we still lack answers to some basic questions. When will species be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions? Will this occur in the next decade or only later in the century? Will the exposure of species accumulate gradually, one species at a time? Or should we expect abrupt jumps as the climate limits of multiple species are exceeded?

Our understanding of when and how abruptly climate driven disruptions of biodiversity will occur is limited because biodiversity forecasts typically focus on individual snapshots of the future. We took a different route. We used annual projections of temperature and precipitation from 1850 to 2100 across more than 30,000 marine and terrestrial species to estimate the timing of species exposure to potentially dangerous climate conditions.

Based on these projections, we estimate that climate change could cause sudden biodiversity losses. These could occur much sooner this century than had been expected. This new analysis indicates that a high percentage of species in local ecosystems could be exposed to potentially dangerous climate conditions simultaneously.

Rather than slowly sliding down a climate change slope, many ecosystems face a cliff edge.

Risk of abrupt biodiversity loss early this century

Abrupt biodiversity loss due to marine heatwaves that bleach coral reefs is already under way in tropical oceans. The risk of climate change causing sudden collapses of ocean ecosystems is projected to escalate further in the 2030s and 2040s. Under a high greenhouse gas emissions scenario the risk of abrupt biodiversity loss is projected to spread onto land, affecting tropical forests and more temperate ecosystems by the 2050s.

Biodiversity exposure to dangerous climate conditions.

These dire projections use historical temperature models to find the upper limit that each species can survive under, as far as we know. Once temperatures rise to levels a species has never experienced, scientists have very limited evidence of their ability to survive.

It’s possible some species, such as those with very short generation times, may be able to adapt. For species with longer generation times – such as most birds and mammals – it may be only a few generations before unprecedented temperatures occur. When this happens the species’ ability to evolve out of this problem may be limited.

Why it matters

Abrupt losses of biodiversity from climate change represent a significant threat to human well-being. In many countries a large percentage of people rely on their immediate natural environment for their food security and income. Sudden disruption of local ecosystems would negatively affect their ability to earn an income and feed themselves, potentially pushing them into poverty.

For instance, marine ecosystems in the Indo-Pacific, Caribbean and the west coast of Africa are at high risk of sudden disruption as early as the 2030s. Hundreds of millions of people across these regions rely on wild-caught fish as an essential source of food. Eco-tourism revenues from coral reefs are also a major source of income.

In Latin America, Asia and Africa, large parts of the Andes, Amazon, Indonesian and Congo forests are projected to be at risk from 2050 under a high emissions scenario.

Sudden loss of animal communities could negatively affect the food security of people in these regions. It could also reduce the long-term ability of tropical forests to lock up carbon if the birds and mammals that are important for dispersing seeds are lost.

Urgent next steps

These findings highlight the urgent need for climate change mitigation. Rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions this decade will help save thousands of species from extinction, and protect the life-giving benefits they provide to humans.

Keeping global warming below 2°C flattens the curve of climate change risk to biodiversity. It does this by massively reducing the number of species at risk and buys more time for species and ecosystems to adapt to the changing climate – whether that’s by finding new habitats, changing their behaviour, or with the help of human-led conservation efforts.

There’s also an urgent need to ramp up efforts to help people in high risk regions adapt their livelihoods as climate change alters local ecosystems.

Projecting where and when species will be exposed to dangerous climate change throughout the century could provide an early warning system, identifying those areas most at risk of abrupt ecological disruption. In addition to highlighting the urgent need for reducing fossil fuel usage, these results could help guide conservation efforts, such as designating new protected areas in climate refugia.

They could also inform resilient ecosystem-based approaches for helping people adapt to changing climates. An example would be planting mangroves to protect coastal communities against increasing flooding. The potential to continuously update and validate these near-term projections as ecological responses to climate change unfold should further refine projections of future climate risks to biodiversity that are so central to managing the climate crisis.

Our planet is still teeming with life. And with the right political leadership and daily actions that we take as citizens, we still have the power to keep it that way.The Conversation

About The Author

Christopher Trisos, Senior Research Fellow, University of Cape Town and Alex Pigot, Research Fellow Genetics, Evolution & Environment Div of Biosciences, UCL

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
Methane Emissions Hit Record Breaking Levels
by Josie Garthwaite
Global emissions of methane have reached the highest levels on record, research shows.
kelp forrest 7 12
How The Forests Of The World’s Oceans Contribute To Alleviating The Climate Crisis
by Emma Bryce
Researchers are looking to kelp for help storing carbon dioxide far beneath the surface of the sea.
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.

LATEST ARTICLES

Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
Two-thirds Of Glacier Ice In The Himalayas Could Be Lost By 2100
by Ann Rowan
In the world of glaciology, the year 2007 would go down in history. It was the year a seemingly small error in a major…
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
Rising Temps Could Kill Millions A Year By Century’s End
by Edward Lempinen
By the end of this century, tens of millions of people could die each year worldwide as a result of temperatures rising…
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
New Zealand Wants To Build A 100% Renewable Electricity Grid, But Massive Infrastructure Is Not The Best Option
by Janet Stephenson
A proposed multibillion-dollar project to build a pumped hydro storage plant could make New Zealand’s electricity grid…
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
Wind Farms Built On Carbon-rich Peat Bogs Lose Their Ability To Fight Climate Change
by Guaduneth Chico et al
Wind power in the UK now accounts for nearly 30% of all electricity production. Land-based wind turbines now produce…
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
Climate Denial Hasn't Gone Away – Here's How To Spot Arguments For Delaying Climate Action
by Stuart Capstick
In new research, we have identified what we call 12 “discourses of delay”. These are ways of speaking and writing about…
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
Routine Gas Flaring Is Wasteful, Polluting And Undermeasured
by Gunnar W. Schade
If you’ve driven through an area where companies extract oil and gas from shale formations, you’ve probably seen flames…
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
Flight Shaming: How To Spread The Campaign That Made Swedes Give Up Flying For Good
by Avit K Bhowmik
Europe’s major airlines are likely to see their turnover drop by 50% in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,…
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
Will The Climate Warm As Much As Feared By Some?
by Steven Sherwood et al
We know the climate changes as greenhouse gas concentrations rise, but the exact amount of expected warming remains…