How will species respond to climate change?

2 August 2013

In an invited review in Science published today, Craig Moritz and Rosa Agudo from the CBA highlight an apparent contradiction between species responses to past climate change and the many dire forecasts of accelerated endangerment and extinction of species under future climate change.

As the authors explain, species can persist under rapid climate change if they can adapt in situ or shift geographic range to track their required climate conditions.
Evidence from the past indicates that many species had a relatively high resilience to changing climatic conditions, often persisting by shifting their geographic ranges. Responses varied greatly across species, leading to changes in composition of local communities.
The 20th Century record shows the same – different species are expanding, shifting or contracting in distribution and local communities are changing. However, in distinct contrast to the geological past, species must now respond to climate change in the context of human-impacted ecosystems.
Despite the paradox that Craig and Rosa have identified between past species responses and current predictive models, they also emphasise that enough is already known to inform species conservation policy right now.
"The most important message is that we need to enable species' natural responses to rapid climate change" said Craig.
This can be done by reducing additional stress (invasive species, habitat fragmentation, etc.), protecting landscapes that act as refugia from climate change, and protecting and rehabilitating habitat corridors to allow species to reach these areas.
And as Craig concludes "much of this is consistent with current policy – we just need to do it".

Full Science article


Media coverage

The Australian Extinction forecasts 'unduly pessimistic': study (subscription only)
ClimateWire How sensitive are species to climate change? (subscription only)
Deutschlandfunk Biodiversity could quite keep up with climate change (transcript in German)