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201205Jan11:58

Cli­mate change mod­els prob­a­bly under­es­ti­mate species extinctions

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pub­lished 05 Jan­u­ary 2012 | mod­i­fied 05 Decem­ber 2012
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We have been told many times by researchers that the cur­rent cli­mate change will cause loss of ani­mal and plant diver­sity glob­ally. A recent study shows that things could be even worse in terms of species extinc­tion num­bers. Ecol­o­gist Mark Urban and his co-​authors state that the com­monly used cli­mate change mod­els don’t account for species com­pe­ti­tion and species movement.

And by doing so these mod­els grossly under­es­ti­mate the loss of species diver­sity in the (near) future. Every species has got its own habi­tat char­ac­ter­is­tics, adap­ta­tions to sit­u­a­tions that have devel­oped over a long period of time (call it evo­lu­tion). Some have a small niche and no abil­ity left to adapt to the cli­mate (and habi­tat) change that is pre­dicted. Included in the adap­ta­tion process is the abil­ity to move, and go to other places on this globe where the habi­tat is more suit­able when the orig­i­nal habi­tat cease to exist. Urban and his fel­low sci­en­tists devel­oped a math­e­mat­i­cal model that takes into account the vary­ing rates of migra­tion and the dif­fer­ent inten­si­ties of com­pe­ti­tion between species in ecosys­tems. The goal was to pre­dict how suc­cess­ful species would be when shift­ing to com­pletely new habitats/​ecosystems.

When a species has a small range, it’s more likely to be out­com­peted by others.

Obvi­ously, their results showed that ani­mals and plants that can adjust to cli­mate change will have a com­pet­i­tive advan­tage over those that don’t. They “pre­dict that cli­mate change will most threaten com­mu­ni­ties of species that have nar­row niches (e.g. trop­ics), vary in dis­per­sal (most com­mu­ni­ties) and com­pete strongly.” In addi­tion they say that cur­rent fore­casts of cli­mate change impacts on bio­di­ver­sity prob­a­bly under­es­ti­mate species extinc­tions by neglect­ing com­pe­ti­tion and dis­per­sal differences.

It’s not about how fast you can move, but how fast you move rel­a­tive to your competitors.

Incor­po­rat­ing these issues like com­pe­ti­tion and dis­per­sal could lead to pre­dic­tions about which species might be most at risk accord­ing to Urban. My response would be: “and then what?”

(Sources: EurekAlert, 03.01.2012; Bloomberg, 04.01.2012) — the quotes are from Mark Urban -

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