Study: Global Warming Will Drive A Net Loss In Biodiversity

by Bob Berwyn, via Summit County Citizens Voice

A major new report suggests that climate change will probably result in a net loss in global biodiversity, as plants and animal species shift their geographic ranges and the timing of their life events — such as flowering, laying eggs or migrating — at faster rates than researchers documented just a few years ago.

The report, Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services, synthesizes the scientific understanding of the way climate change is affecting ecosystems, ecosystem services and the diversity of species, as well as what strategies might be used by natural resource practitioners to decrease current and future risks. It was prepared as a technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems to be used as scientific input for the 2013 Third National Climate Assessment.

“The report clearly indicates that as climate change continues to impact ecological systems, a net loss of global species’ diversity, as well as major shifts in the provision of ecosystem services, are quite likely,” said Michelle Staudinger, a lead author of the report and a USGS and University of Missouri scientist.

More than 60 federal, academic and other scientists, including the lead authors from the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Wildlife Federation and Arizona State University in Tempe, authored the assessment.

“These geographic range and timing changes are causing cascading effects that extend through ecosystems, bringing together species that haven’t previously interacted and creating mismatches between animals and their food sources,” said Nancy Grimm, a scientist at ASU and a lead author of the report.

Grimm explained that such mismatches in the availability and timing of natural resources can influence species’ survival; for example, if insects emerge well before the arrival of migrating birds that rely on them for food, it can adversely affect bird populations. Earlier thaw and shorter winters can extend growing seasons for insect pests such as bark beetles, having devastating consequences for the way ecosystems are structured and function. This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems, such as clean water, wood products and food.

“The impact of climate change on ecosystems has important implications for people and communities,” said Amanda Staudt, a NWF climate scientist and a lead author on the report. “Shifting climate conditions are affecting valuable ecosystem services, such as the role that coastal habitats play in dampening storm surge or the ability of our forests to provide timber and help filter our drinking water.”

Another key finding is the mounting evidence that population declines and increased extinction risks for some plant and animal species can be directly attributed to climate change. The most vulnerable species are those already degraded by other human-caused stressors such as pollution or exploitation, unable to shift their geographic range or timing of key life events, or that have narrow environmental or ecological tolerance. For example, species that must live at high altitudes or live in cold water with a narrow temperature range, such as salmon, face an even greater risk due to climate change.

For example, she added, climate change is already causing shifts in the abundance and geographic range of economically important marine fish. “These changes will almost certainly continue, resulting in some local fisheries declining or disappearing while others may grow and become more valuable if fishing communities can find socially and economically viable ways to adapt to these changes.”

Natural resource managers are already contending with what climate change means for the way they approach conservation. For example, the report stated, land managers are now more focused on the connectivity of protected habitats, which can improve a species’ ability to shift its geographic range to follow optimal conditions for survival.

“The conservation community is grappling with how we manage our natural resources in the face of climate change, so that we can help our ecosystems to continue meeting the needs of both people and wildlife,” said Bruce Stein, a lead author of the report and director of climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation.

Bob Berwyn is Editor of Summit County Citizens Voice. This piece was originally published at Citizens Voice and was reprinted with permission.

11 Responses to Study: Global Warming Will Drive A Net Loss In Biodiversity

  1. Ken Barrows says:


  2. Leif says:

    King Crab are starting to invade Antarctica. A top predator of the Arctic deeps, most Antarctic bottom dwellers have no defense against these giants in their realm. No “probably” about it.

  3. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Another academic report that is catching up with what ordinary people have been observing in their gardens and regions for years now, ME

  4. Paul Klinkman says:

    I have no respect for a terribly rich world that doesn’t at least freeze eggs in liquid nitrogen, so that we can recover the biodiversity some day. It’s one thing to kill off most of the earth’s species because you like $30 million dollar motor yachts, but it’s worse to kill them off forever.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    It’s the usual mealy-mouthed prevarication that the bien pensant ‘lamestream’ environment groups practise. No doubt they are frightened that if they told the truth the corporate monies that keep them going (and well-paid)would dry up. We are in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction event in human history, and planetary biodiversity is crashing. That’s the truth.

  6. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Very good idea – we have a couple of global seed banks so why not the fauna as well, ME

  7. Solar Jim says:

    RE: “This can substantially alter the benefits people derive from ecosystems . .” I wonder how the oxygen generators (forest and phytoplankton principally) are holding out. Our predicament is downright suffocating.

  8. Chris Taylor says:

    There are a few responses to this article expressing disappointment that the scientific report is using probabilistic statements to quantify risks posed. Here is a video by Stephen Schneider explaining why system scientists have to do that:

    Another commenter is dismayed that the scientists are playing catch-up on what the public have already observed. The difference is that scientific observations very often consist of many thousands of measurements, This is necessary to reduce the risk that uncontrolled amateur observations may be inaccurate or unknowingly biased in some way.

  9. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I am not dismayed by either scientific method or the delays involved in publication as I know a bit about both but I was pointing out that in cases like this, all science can do is belatedly confirm everyday perceptions by millions of people the world over, which should not be lightly disregarded, ME

  10. Merrelyn Emery says:

    And science’s calculation of risk is sometimes spectacularly wrong as in the unfortunate case of the recent Italian earthquake where the residents’ perceptual systems, highly attuned to local circumstances, told them something big could happen, ME