AboutZoos, Since 2008


Cli­mate change dis­rupts nat­ural rela­tion­ships between species, accord­ing to new study

pub­lished 16 April 2014 | mod­i­fied 16 April 2014

Part II of the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change’s 5th assess­ment report, pub­lished at the end of March, reported that cli­mate change is alter­ing species’ dis­tri­b­u­tions and pop­u­la­tions with high con­fi­dence. How­ever, what is less clear is how and why. Now researchers funded by the Cam­bridge Con­ser­va­tion Initiative’s Col­lab­o­ra­tive Fund for Con­ser­va­tion have pub­lished find­ings from a lit­er­a­ture review and meta-​analysis, which show that the main dri­ver of change might actu­ally occur through altered inter­ac­tions between species, rather than direct responses to climate.

Arcticfox by CarstenEgevangThe lit­er­a­ture review paper, pub­lished on 28 March in the jour­nal Global Change Biol­ogy, was pro­duced as one of the out­puts from the Cam­bridge Con­ser­va­tion Ini­tia­tive (CCI) project ‘Mech­a­nisms under­pin­ning the impact of cli­mate change on nat­ural pop­u­la­tions’.

Each species shares an ecosys­tem with other species, some of which it might eat, and oth­ers that might eat or com­pete with it. The col­lab­o­ra­tion of researchers from CCI part­ners, led by sci­en­tists from the British Trust for Ornithol­ogy (BTO), found it was the effects of cli­matic changes upon the pop­u­la­tions or activ­ity of these other species which were respon­si­ble for many of the impacts observed, as they cas­cade through the food chain. For exam­ple, Arc­tic fox pop­u­la­tions have been affected by declin­ing lem­ming pop­u­la­tions linked to changes in snow cover, and also by expand­ing red fox pop­u­la­tions. In the UK upland birds such as the golden plover are affected by increas­ing sum­mer tem­per­a­tures, which causes prob­lems for their crane fly prey. These dis­rup­tions par­tic­u­larly affect preda­tory species, and appear to have wors­ened with cli­mate change.

This study high­lights a need to con­sider the often com­plex eco­log­i­cal rela­tion­ships between species when assess­ing the impacts of cli­mate change on wildlife.
Jamie Carr, co-​author, Inter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature »

Dr James Pearce-​Higgins of the BTO said, “Although it might be assumed that most species are respond­ing directly to cli­matic changes, either as indi­vid­u­als move to keep within their favoured cli­mate zone, or through sur­vival and repro­duc­tive rates linked closely to these cli­matic vari­ables, this does not account for the major­ity of impacts. Instead, the main impacts of cli­mate change occur through altered inter­ac­tions between species within an ecosystem.”

Impor­tantly, as much con­ser­va­tion action is already about man­ag­ing species’ pop­u­la­tions, such as con­trol­ling inva­sive species or reduc­ing pre­da­tion risk, we already have the con­ser­va­tion tools in place to reduce the impacts of cli­mate change on species. This under­stand­ing there­fore pro­vides hope that we can help the most vul­ner­a­ble species adapt to cli­mate change, pro­vid­ing the mag­ni­tude of cli­mate change is not too great, and that con­ser­va­tion activ­ity is suf­fi­ciently funded. For exam­ple, in the UK uplands, we can restore degraded peat­land habi­tats to boost inver­te­brate crane fly pop­u­la­tions, and increase their resilience to cli­mate change. Whilst this work also helps iden­tify the types of species’ most vul­ner­a­ble to future cli­mate change impacts, there remains a lack of infor­ma­tion from the trop­ics, where most species occur, and where increased mon­i­tor­ing and research is essential.

“This study high­lights a need to con­sider the often com­plex eco­log­i­cal rela­tion­ships between species when assess­ing the impacts of cli­mate change on wildlife.” says Jamie Carr of the IUCN. “Most research to date has focused on the direct impacts of chang­ing con­di­tions, which may mean that impor­tant emerg­ing threats are being overlooked.”

(Source: Cam­bridge Con­ser­va­tion Ini­tia­tive News, 14.04.2014)

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