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New maps reveal loca­tions of species at risk as cli­mate changes

pub­lished 11 Feb­ru­ary 2014 | mod­i­fied 25 Decem­ber 2014

An inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists has pro­duced global maps show­ing how fast and in which direc­tion local cli­mates have shifted.

Climatechange map AustraliaIn research pub­lished online on 9 Feb­ru­ary in the jour­nal Nature, the Com­mon­wealth Sci­en­tific and Indus­trial Research Organ­i­sa­tion (CSIRO) and an inter­na­tional team of sci­en­tists revealed global maps show­ing how fast and in which direc­tion local cli­mates are shift­ing. This new study points to a sim­pler way of look­ing at cli­matic changes and their likely effects on biodiversity.

As cli­mate change unfolds over the next cen­tury, plants and ani­mals will need to adapt or shift loca­tions to track their ideal climate.

The maps show areas where plants and ani­mals may strug­gle to find a new home in a chang­ing cli­mate and pro­vide cru­cial infor­ma­tion for tar­get­ing con­ser­va­tion efforts
Elvira Poloczan­ska, co-​author, CSIRO Marine and Atmos­pheric Research »

The study analysed 50 years of sea sur­face and land tem­per­a­ture data (19602009) and also inves­ti­gated two future sce­nar­ios for marine envi­ron­ments (‘busi­ness as usual’ and a 1.75°C tem­per­a­ture increase). The new maps show where new ther­mal envi­ron­ments are being gen­er­ated and where exist­ing envi­ron­ments may disappear.

“The maps show us how fast and in which direc­tion tem­per­a­tures are shift­ing, and where cli­mate migrants fol­low­ing them may hit bar­ri­ers such as coast­lines. Our work shows that cli­mate migra­tion is far more com­plex than a sim­ple shift towards the poles,” eco­log­i­cal geo­g­ra­pher with the project Kris­ten Williams said.

“Across Aus­tralia, species are already expe­ri­enc­ing warmer tem­per­a­tures. In ter­res­trial habi­tats, species have started to seek relief by mov­ing to higher ele­va­tions, or fur­ther south. How­ever, some species of ani­mals and plants can­not move large dis­tances, and some not at all.” Species migra­tion can have impor­tant con­se­quences for local bio­di­ver­sity. For exam­ple, the dry, flat con­ti­nen­tal inte­rior of Aus­tralia is a hot, arid region where species already exist close to the mar­gin of their ther­mal tol­er­ances. Some species dri­ven south from mon­soonal north­ern Aus­tralia in the hope of cooler habi­tats may per­ish in that environment.

“In the oceans, warm­ing waters and a strength­en­ing of the East Aus­tralian Cur­rent have mobilised the Long-​spined Sea Urchin (Cen­trostephanus rodger­sii), pre­vi­ously only found as far south as south­ern NSW, to invade the east­ern Tas­ma­nia coast. This has resulted in the decline of giant kelp forests with knock-​on effects for commercially-​fished rock lob­sters,” Dr Poloczan­ska said.

CSIRO and Uni­ver­sity of Queensland’s Anthony Richard­son said the study can­not be used as a sole guide as to what to do in the face of cli­mate change. “Bio­log­i­cal fac­tors such as a species’ capac­ity to adapt and dis­perse need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion,” Pro­fes­sor Richard­son said.

But in an unprece­dented period of cli­mate change, eco­nomic devel­op­ment and fast grow­ing demand on an already pres­sured planet, we need to act fast to make sure as much of the world’s liv­ing resources sur­vive that change.
(Anthony Richard­son, co-​author, CSIRO and Uni­ver­sity of Queensland)

(Source: CSIRO media release, 10.02.2014)

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