A newly released study tries to quantify the rate at which global warming is moving across the world, and shows that the average ecosystem will need to shift a quarter of a mile each year in order to stay in its ideal temperature range. Scientists at a group of institutions in California note that creatures in flatter areas, including coasts and deserts, will have to move even farther, up to a kilometer a year, in order to stay ahead.
Of course, plants and animals have been adapting to changes in their environment for thousands of years, through both evolution and migration. However the newly released models show that many species in as many as one-third of the habitats studied will be unable to keep up with the projected rates of change. An even more serious issue, and one that cannot be ascribed to natural forces, is the fragmentation of so many natural habitats by human activity. Many animals and plants seeking cooler areas will be blocked by fences, roads, farms, and other barriers. The study’s authors note that the provision and expansion of wildlife corridors and reserves and other assistance to plants and animals may be required to preserve as much of the planet’s biodiversity as possible.
In addition to the required speed of migration and the fragmentation of habitat, an article five years ago in the New Scientist notes that some animals’ gene pools may be adversely affected by climate change, which will further harm their ability to adapt.
In this video, Stanford Professor Chris Field explains how global warming is expected to profoundly affect the small Jasper Ridge reserve in less than a decade, possibly in as little as five years:
The fight against climate change must include emissions reduction, global warming mitigation and adaptation. Reduction and mitigation are up to us humans, but adaptation will be necessary for all living things.
As we move on from the Copenhagen talks, citizens and governments will need to embrace preparation and planning for the effects of global warming and accept responsibility to help many creatures–human, plant and animal–adapt to the accelerating changes. In an interview with the San Francisoc Chronicle, the study co-author and biologist Healy Hamilton concludes, “Climate change is going to happen faster than we expected, and our conservation strategies are going to have to adapt.”
Photo: A Western Tanager. Songbirds are particularly affected by global warming.
Photo by Don DeBold via Flickr. CC license.