More than half of common plants and one third of the animals
could see a dramatic decline this century due to climate change – according to
research from the University of East Anglia.
Research published in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at 50 000 globally widespread and
common species and found that more than one half of the plants and one third of
the animals will lose more than half of their climatic range by 2080 if nothing
is done to reduce the amount of global warming and slow it down.
This means that geographic ranges of common plants and
animals will shrink globally and biodiversity will decline almost everywhere.
Most at risk
Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to
be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia
would lose the most species of plants and animals. And a major loss of plant
species is projected for North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe.
But acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce
losses by 60% and buy an additional 40 years for species to adapt. This is
because this mitigation would slow and then stop global temperatures from
rising by more than two degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial times
(1765). Without this mitigation, global temperatures could rise by 4 degrees
Celsius by 2100.
The study was led by Dr Rachel Warren from theTyndall Centre
for Climate Change Research at UEA. Collaborators include Dr Jeremy VanDerWal
at James Cook University in Australia and Dr Jeff Price, from UEA’s school of
Environmental Sciences and the Tyndall Centre. The research was funded by the
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
Dr Warren said: “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.
“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread
species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can
significantly disrupt ecosystems.
“Our research predicts that climate change will greatly
reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the
world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish
the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.
Estimates may be too
“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but
other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and
diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in
particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of
food from plants.
“There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because
these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood
control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.
"The good news is that our research provides crucial
new evidence of how swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases can
prevent the biodiversity loss by reducing the amount of global warming to 2
degrees Celsius rather than 4 degrees. This would also buy time – up to four
decades - for plants and animals to adapt to the remaining 2 degrees of climate
The research team quantified the benefits of acting now to
mitigate climate change and found that up to 60 % of the projected climatic
range loss for biodiversity can be avoided.
Dr Warren said: “Prompt and stringent action to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60
per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak
in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial. This will both reduce
the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it
easier for species and humans to adapt.”
Information on the current distributions of the species used
in this research came from the datasets shared online by hundreds of
volunteers, scientists and natural history collections through the Global
Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).
Co-author Dr Jeff Price, also from UEA’s school of
Environmental Studies, said: "Without free and open access to massive
amounts of data such as those made available online through GBIF, no individual
researcher is able to contact every country, every museum, every scientist
holding the data and pull it all together. So this research would not be
possible without GBIF and its global community of researchers and volunteers
who make their data freely available."