Many animals and plants face ‘dramatic decline’ because of global warming

Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia at risk of losing most

Plants, reptiles such as the iguana and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk from runaway global warming. Photograph: Alan Betson

Plants, reptiles such as the iguana and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk from runaway global warming. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Almost two-thirds of common plants and half of the most common species of animals could suffer a “dramatic decline” this century due to runaway global warming, according to research from the University of East Anglia published by the journal Nature Climate Change .

The researchers looked at 50,000 globally widespread species and found that two-thirds of the plants and half of the animals would lose more than 50 per cent of the “climatic range” of their habitats by 2080 if nothing is done to slow down global warming.

Plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians are expected to be at highest risk. Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia would lose the most, but the study also projects major losses for North Africa, Central Asia and southeast Europe.


Harm reduction
It says acting quickly to mitigate climate change could reduce losses by 60 per cent and “buy” an additional 40 years for species to adapt, by limiting the rise in average global surface temperatures at two degrees relative to pre-industrial times.

Study leader Dr Rachel Warren, from the university’s school of environmental sciences and Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, warned that even small declines in common species could “significantly disrupt ecosystems” in worst-affected areas.

“While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species,” she said, adding that their loss would “significantly impoverish” nature.

“We looked at the effect of other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases, meaning that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.”

Dr Warren said: “Prompt and stringent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally would reduce these biodiversity losses by 60 per cent if global emissions peak in 2016, or by 40 per cent if emissions peak in 2030, showing that early action is very beneficial.”