New maps locate climate change-threatened species

CANBERRA, Feb. 10 (PNA/Xinhua) — An international team of scientists produced global maps showing how fast and in which direction local climates have shifted, one of this group’s participants Commonwealth of Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia announced Monday.

CSIRO and other team members revealed the maps in research published Monday in the journal ‘Nature.’

This new study points to a simpler way of looking at climatic changes and their likely effects on biodiversity.

As climate change unfolds over the next century, plants and animals will need to adapt or shift locations to track their ideal climate.

“The maps show areas where plants and animals may struggle to find a new home in a changing climate and provide crucial information for targeting conservation efforts,” said CSIRO’s Dr. Elvira Poloczanska.

The study analyzed 50 years of sea surface and land temperature data (1960-2009) and investigated two future scenarios for marine environments: ‘business as usual’ and a 1.75°C temperature increase.

The maps show where new thermal environments are being generated and where existing environments may disappear.

“The maps show us how fast and in which direction temperatures are shifting and where climate migrants following them may hit barriers such as coastlines. Our work shows that climate migration is far more complex than a simple shift towards the poles,” said Kristen Williams, ecological geographer with the project.

“Across Australia, species are already experiencing warmer temperatures. In terrestrial habitats, species have started to seek relief by moving to higher elevations or further south. However, some species of animals and plants cannot move large distances and some not at all.”

Species’ migration can have important consequences for local biodiversity.

For example, the dry, flat continental interior of Australia is a hot, arid region where species already exist close to the margin of their thermal tolerances.

Some species driven south from monsoonal northern Australia in the hope of cooler habitats may perish in that environment.

“In the oceans, warming waters and strengthening of the East Australian Current mobilized the long-spined sea urchin, previously found only as far south as southern New South Wales, to invade the eastern Tasmanian coast. This resulted in decline of giant kelp forests with knock-on effects for commercially-fished rock lobsters,” Poloczanska said.

CSIRO and University of Queensland’s Anthony Richardson said the study cannot be used as sole guide on what to do in view of climate change.

“Biological factors like species’ capacity to adapt and disperse need to be taken into consideration,” Richardson said.

“In an unprecedented period of climate change, economic development and fast-growing demand on an already pressured planet, however, we need to act fast to make sure as much of the world’s living resources survive that change.”

Poloczanska, Richardson and Williams undertook the study with a team of 18 international researchers from Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, Britain and the United States. (PNA/Xinhua)