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Officials last week revealed that the U.S. contribution to ITER could cost $3.9 billion by 2034—roughly four times the...
An experimental hepatitis B drug that looked safe in animal trials tragically killed five of 15 patients in 1993. Now,...
Using the two high-quality genomes that exist for Neandertals and Denisovans, researchers find clues to gene activity...
A new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that humanity has done little to slow...
Astronomers have discovered an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of a red dwarf—a star cooler than the sun—500...
Three years ago, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University proposed that a warming Arctic was altering the behavior of the...
- 17 April 2014 12:48 pm , Vol. 344 , #6181
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Biodiversity Getting Baked
7 January 2004 (All day)
The untimely extinction of the golden toad in a Costa Rican rainforest in the late 1980s just may have been the first in a long list of species driven to extinction by global warming. In the 8 January issue of Nature, a team of researchers concludes that if climate warming proceeds unchecked, 15% to 37% of the 1103 plant and animal species they examined will disappear by 2050.
"Losing all of these species is not absolutely inevitable," says lead author Chris Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of Leeds, U.K. A substantial number could be saved, Thomas says, by "making the right political and economic decisions."
In a collaborative tour de force, scientists from across the globe came together to collectively analyze how changes in climate may affect various organisms. To predict which creatures are in danger of extinction, the teams used computer modeling and information from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to compare the way habitats look today with how they may be altered by climate change. They also investigated whether particular species will be able to emigrate if their current territories become unfit.
The authors speculate that many other ecological problems could also erupt from changes in climate. For instance, species that move to a more suitable region or try to make do with their changed environments may have to battle invaders. And some creatures may face serious hurdles because the area between old and new destinations could also be rendered uninhabitable. Butterflies in Britain may be a good example of this, Thomas says. His work shows that many butterfly species that should have moved to more appropriate climates by now have not.
Until now, conservationists have pointed to habitat loss, direct overexploitation, and species invasions as the chief hazards to species survival, says Thomas. But the new study makes it "clear that climate change needs to be ranked among these as a major threat," he says.
The study does a "very nice job" of using different approaches to show that climate change is a dominant force, says Thomas Lovejoy, president of the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment in Washington, D.C. "I think the single most important public policy [issue] here is agreeing on what the limit should be on greenhouse gas concentration," he says. "We've got to come to grips with where to draw the line."