Moving Up: Climate Change Forces Species to Higher Elevations

Higher Elevation Biodiversity Climate Change Moth Image
photo xamad @ flickr

Mount Kinabalu on the island of Borneo is a major center of biodiversity. The large range of elevation creates unique habitat conditions from lower to higher elevations, leading to a rich diversity of life. In 1965 three undergraduates set off to trap moths on the mountain, and unknowingly established the foundation for future studies of the impact of climate change. Forty-two years later Henry Barlow and Jeremy Holloway, two of the original three undergraduates assisted in a 2007 expedition back to the mountain, that for the first time has demonstrated climate change is affecting the distribution of tropical insects, the most numerous group of animals on Earth.The research led by University of York has found that the tropical insects moved about 67 meters uphill in the past 42 years. This represents a major threat to global biodiversity, as insect species are pushed into ever-higher elevations the options for habitat become scarce. Many of the moth species found by the expedition are found nowhere else on Earth, and are in increasing danger of extinction.

I-Ching Chen, the lead author and a PhD student at York said, "Tropical insects form the most diverse group of animals on Earth but to-date we have not known whether they were responding to climate change. The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change AR4 Report showed a gaping hole in the evidence. Our new study is good in that it increases the evidence available, but it is potentially bad for biodiversity."

The scientists completed the same survey as before, using photographs to pinpoint the same locations. The survey involved climbing the mountain and catching moths up to 3,675 meters (12,057 feet for those who can’t speak metric). After identification of the moths was completed, it was possible to identify the statistically relevant shift in altitude. The study begins to fill in the picture of the dangers of climate change, and the importance of preserving large vertical swaths of forest for species migration as we continue to warm.

via University of York
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