Species Must Run From Global Warming to Survive

animal tracks in mud photo
Photo via HummingLion Designs

As global temperatures rise, species across the world will have to, quite literally, run to stay alive. According to the latest research, 28.8% of the biomes of the earth will need to migrate at a rate greater than 1 kilometer per year to escape the heat, which is intensifying in a gradient band around the earth. Some organisms most sensitive to temperature changes will not be capable of outrunning the wave of climate change, destined to be made unfit for their new climate zone--leading to mass extinctions on a scale not seen since the last ice age.The Wave of Climate Change
The study was conducted by scientists at the Carnegie Institution, Stanford University, the California Academy of Sciences, and the University of California, Berkeley. Available information on current and projected future climate conditions led researchers to calculate a "temperature velocity" for different parts of the world, according to a report in The Guardian.

This "temperature velocity," or the speed in which increased warming will sweep across the globe, is an important factor to consider when assessing the long-term consequences of climate change.

Scott Loarie of Stanford University:

This number is important because 1 km / year is the best estimate of migration speed of ecosystems after the end of last ice age. The end of the ice age, there are 10 thousand years, was the most rapid change of recent times - and led to a mass extinction.

Species Must Run From the Heat
Global temperatures are estimated to increase by about 3 degrees Celsius by the end of next century. Climate zones across the world are expected to shift towards the poles with species that rely on current temperatures having to migrate to keep pace.

It was originally believed that species that live in the world's mountainous regions would be the first casualties--having no refuge past the terminal altitude. But, the study shows that flatter regions, like the Amazon, will be the most rapidly effected.

Loarie continues:

Species that inhabit the Amazon, for example, will have to go much further to remain at the same temperature, since the forest is fairly homogeneous. The question is whether these species can change in time.

Nowhere to Run, No Place to Hide
In many cases, unfortunately, the global warming induced migrations will be stymied by development--in the case of the Amazon--soy bean and sugarcane plantations. More localized species movement is already commonplace in many areas from human encroachment, but as temperatures rise, these refuges of biodiversity will be without escape. Species with fragmented populations, too, will have a harder time migrating and may face extinction regardless of the "temperature velocity" in their area.

Healy Hamilton from the California Academy of Sciences:

One of the most powerful aspects of this data is that it allows us to evaluate how our current protected area network will perform as we attempt to conserve biodiversity in the face of global climate change.

The study, published in the journal Nature, focuses primarily on the movement of climate zones and not the organisms effected by it, but they do make it clear that some ecosystems will have great difficulties adapting to the new climate they find themselves in. According to the scientists, in some cases the only solution may be for threatened species to be transported by hand to more tolerable climes--if there are any left.

More on Climate Change Extinctions
Climate Change Could Wipe Out Half of World's Species
Climate Change Could Extinguish Two-Thirds of California's Plants
Do Amphibian Deaths Signal the Coming of a Sixth Mass Extinction?

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