13 June 2013

Thriving species at risk from climate change

Many species of birds, amphibians and corals not currently under threat will be at risk from climate change and have been wrongly omitted from conservation planning, an international study found.


The Amazon rainforest was among the places where ever more types of birds and amphibians would be threatened as temperatures climbed, an international study has found. Common corals off Indonesia would also be among the most vulnerable.

Overall, up to 41% of all bird species, 29% of amphibians and 22% of corals were "highly climate change vulnerable but are not currently threatened", the team of scientists wrote in the journal PLOS ONE.

"It was a surprise," said Wendy Foden, of the global species programme of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who led the study. Experts had expected far more overlap between species threatened now and those vulnerable to global warming.

Conservation priorities should be revised to take account of the emerging climate risks, for instance to decide where to locate protected areas for wildlife, the scientists wrote.

"Climate change is not the biggest threat, yet," Foden told Reuters in a telephone interview. Loss of habitats driven by a rising human population, over-exploitation and invasive species are now the main causes of extinctions, the study said.

The study drew on the work of more than 100 scientists. The IUCN groups governments, scientists and environmental groups.

What the study found

Birds including the Emperor Penguin and the Little Owl and amphibians such as Rose's rain frog or the Imitator Salamander - none of which are now threatened - were among those at risk as temperatures rose.

The study focused on birds, amphibians - which include frogs, newts and salamanders - and corals partly because the IUCN has recently published global assessments of each.

The scientists used a new scale to judge the vulnerability to climate change, based on each creature's likely exposure to climate change, sensitivity to change and the ability to adapt.

Chris Thomas, a professor of biology at York University in England who was not involved in the study, welcomed the attempt to map climate risks, but said there were many uncertainties.

"The tragedy of this is that we need to make a lot of decisions about conservation ... before we know what will happen," he said.

A U.N. panel of scientists has estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the world's species are likely to be at increasing risk of extinction if temperatures rise more than two or three degrees Celsius (3.6-5.4F) above pre-industrial levels.

Almost 200 nations have set a goal of limiting warming to below 2C, a target set to be breached on current trends of rising greenhouse gases.


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