Lower Biodiversity Hurts Species' Chances To Adapt To Climate Change

Mr T in DC/CC BY-ND 2.0

Interesting new research explaining how what, to me at least, seems intuitively true: The greater the biodiversity in an ecosystem, the greater chance that any species will be able to adapt to climate change. It applies to communities and human economies too. But first, the research.

Published in Evolutionary Applications, research from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis shows,

In some cases evolution can rescue plant-pollinator mutalisms that would otherwise become extinct as a result of climate change. Whether a mutalism survives, however, can depend on upon the density and distribution of other species in the community. For example, under many circumstances, the presence of alternative pollinators available to the focal plant can help to protect both the focal plant and the focal pollinator from extinction.

More basically, say there are two species who have evolved to be dependent upon one another -- a plant depends on a particular insect to pollinate it and the insect depends on that plant in return. If climate change has differing impacts at differing times to each of them -- say, the plant starts flowering before the insects arrive, or the insects arrive earlier because of changing temperatures elsewhere and the plant isn't yet flowering -- then both species may be in danger of extinction. Or at least face a much harder time adapting to the changing climatic conditions. But if there is greater biodiversity, there may be alternative pollinators to take up the slack, if you will.

In even greater brevity: When you reduce biodiversity, you reduce possible interactions, you reduce possible avenues of change, you start closing off differing ways of coping.

Paper lead author Tucker Gilman says,

Habitat fragmentation or loss of native pollinators might compound the threat of climate change to mutalisms. The results are troubling because anthropogenic climate change is thought to be happening up to ten times faster than any natural climate change in the past 500,000 years. This means that mutalisms that have survived past climate change events may still be vulnerable to anthropogenic climate change. (Science Daily)

Really, as I started to say, this applies to communities and economies as well. The greater the diversity of business, people, thoughts, ways of expression (here, the loss of differing languages and cosmologies is apropos to environmentalism), the greater the number of possible permutations of the expression of consciousness and existence itself and the easier it is for these to become manifest.

A city or nation that devotes itself to too few types of economic activity is more easily shocked when that source of prosperity is disrupted (for whatever reason). A community with a tightly circumscribed boundary around the types of people that live there, the political, cosmological or ethical viewpoints, is more easily shocked. On a personal level it applies as well, in terms of the types of viewpoints that you regularly hear on any given subject.

Of course, simply having this diversity is no guarantor that the best path forward in any given circumstance will be chosen -- just as having ample biodiversity is no guarantee that any specific species will be able to adapt to climate change. But the more routes around disaster, disruption, or just distraction are present, the easier it is to avoid it.

Tags: Biodiversity | Global Climate Change