Climate Crisis Could Cause a Third of Plant and Animal Species to Disappear Within 50 Years: Study
The human-caused climate crisis could cause the extinction of 30 percent of the world's plant and animal species by 2070, even accounting for species' abilities to disperse and shift their niches to tolerate hotter temperatures, according to a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
University of Arizona researchers Cristian Román-Palacios and John J. Wiens analyzed data on 538 plant and animal species and 581 sites worldwide, focusing on species surveyed at the same locations over time, at least a decade apart. They found that 44 percent of the species had local extinctions at one or more sites.
"The study identified maximum annual temperatures — the hottest daily highs in summer — as the key variable that best explains whether a population will go extinct," said a statement from the university. "Surprisingly, the researchers found that average yearly temperatures showed smaller changes at sites with local extinction, even though average temperatures are widely used as a proxy for overall climate change."
As Wiens explained, "This means that using changes in mean annual temperatures to predict extinction from climate change might be positively misleading."
Lead author Román-Palacios laid out their key findings in a series of tweets Thursday:
My latest is finally out in @PNASNews! We examined how populations of 538 species have responded contemporaneous cl… https://t.co/cb7Lim1Xt3— Cristian Román-Palacios (@Cristian Román-Palacios)1581638311.0
"By analyzing the change in 19 climatic variables at each site, we could determine which variables drive local extinctions and how much change a population can tolerate without going extinct," Román-Palacios said in the statement. "We also estimated how quickly populations can move to try and escape rising temperatures. When we put all of these pieces of information together for each species, we can come up with detailed estimates of global extinction rates for hundreds of plant and animal species."
(3/n) Based on species’ past responses to contemporaneous climate change and projected temperatures by 2070, we est… https://t.co/QpBhRFaYbi— Cristian Román-Palacios (@Cristian Román-Palacios)1581641849.0
The university statement noted that "previous studies have focused on dispersal — or migration to cooler habitats — as a means for species to 'escape' from warming climates. However, the authors of the current study found that most species will not be able to disperse quickly enough to avoid extinction, based on their past rates of movement."
The researchers found that species were able to tolerate hotter conditions at their original locations to a point, but the local extinction rates increased as maximum temperatures did. About half of the species they studied experienced extinctions if the maximum temperature rose over 0.5°C; that figure jumped to 95 percent of species when maximum temperature rose by over 2.9°C.
"Given dispersal alone, many of these species (∼57–70%) may face extinction. However, niche shifts can potentially reduce this to only 30% or less," according to the study. Considering both dispersal and niche shifts, the researchers projected that 16–30% of the 538 studied species could disappear within the next 50 years.
While the researchers' new projections are similar for plant and animal species, they found that extinctions could be up to four times more common in the tropics compared with more temperate regions. Román-Palacios said that "this is a big problem, because the majority of plant and animal species occur in the tropics."
(5/5) There's a ton of work behind this paper, some frustration, but also lots of excitement! Thanks to everyone wh… https://t.co/HzMBfBIkDy— Cristian Román-Palacios (@Cristian Román-Palacios)1581641851.0
"In a way, it's a 'choose your own adventure,'" said Wiens. "If we stick to the Paris agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results."
Some scientists and climate advocacy groups have long criticized the landmark 2015 Paris accord as too weak to adequately address the planetary emergency — and, as Common Dreams reported in December 2019, the latest global negotiations about implementing the agreement were denounced as an "utter failure." At the time, nearly 100 civil society groups called out polluting industries and wealthy countries for "throwing gasoline on the fire of the climate crisis."
Ahead of the COP 25, U.S. President Donald Trump delivered on his promise to ditch the Paris agreement by beginning the one-year withdrawal process in November 2019. Climate experts and activists condemned the move as "irresponsible and shortsighted" but also looked ahead to the November 2020 election and emphasized that the next president could recommit the U.S. to the accord and fight for even more ambitious action on a global scale.
The new study comes as young people take to the streets worldwide to demand bolder climate policies, experts warn that the climate crisis is an "existential danger," and scientists contribute to the growing body of research showing how global heating is expected to affect species and the environment. One of those studies, published last week, found that the rate at which bumblebees are declining due to extreme heat is "consistent with a mass extinction."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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