photo: Threat to Democracy/CC BY
A new study in the journal Science sheds some light on the critical question of how well will animal species adapt to climate change. The paper shows that animals are responding up to three times faster than expected to climate changes, either moving to higher altitudes or to different latitudes. Study lead author Chris Thomas, from the University of York, told Reuters that on average wildlife has move to higher elevations at a rate of 40' per decade, twice what was previously estimated. As for moving to different latitudes, Thomas says the average latitude shift is three times earlier estimates, though not all species respond equally. Some don't move at all, while other move towards the poles, and perhaps surprisingly some actually move towards the equator in an effort to reach suitable habitat.
The paper also found that species moved most in places where the climate had warmed the most.
Whether this rate of movement is enough to stop expected rates of species extinction due to climate change, or whether rapid evolution will be able to save a significant number of species, is unknown. Estimates of how many species could become extinct due to climate changes is anywhere from 25-50%.
Remember that climate change is just one factor in the current extremely high rates of extinction--about 1,000 times the historic rate. Habitat loss due to expanding human population and excessive resource consumption (poaching comes under than heading...) is linked with the majority of current species extinction.