Study Predicts Dramatic Decline in Plants and Animals Unless Greenhouse Gas Emissions are Sharply Reduced

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An international team of researchers reported today (Sunday 12 May 2013) in the journal Nature Climate Change, that the climate disruption from rapidly rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could result in a dramatic decline in more than one half of the world’s common plants and one third of the animals by the end of the century.  “Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world,” said Dr Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom, leader of the study.  “This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.”  She said the loss could be prevented with “swift action to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gases.”

In the study summarized in “Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity loss,” researchers “looked at the effect of rising global temperatures,” said Warren, “but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Warren noted in a press release from the UEA that “[a]nimals 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 researchers also considered the consequences of an effective global effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions below what they otherwise will be. “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,” says Warren. “This will both reduce the amount of climate change and also slow climate change down, making it easier for species and humans to adapt.”

The researchers considered 50,000 species, drawing from information assembled in datasets shared through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).  Co-author Dr Jeff Price 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."

Online Resources:

Quantifying the benefit of early climate change mitigation in avoiding biodiversity lossNature Climate Change, published online 12 May 2013.  By R. Warren, J. VanDerWal, J. Price, J. A. Welbergen, I. Atkinson, J. Ramirez-Villegas, T. J. Osborn, A. Jarvis, L. P. Shoo, S. E. Williams, J. Lowe

Climate change will cause widespread global-scale loss of common plants and animals.  Press release (12 May 2013) from the University of East Anglia.

GBIF enables global forecast of climate impacts on species.  Press release (10 May 2013) from Global Biodiversity Information Facility.

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