Rate of Ecoshift in a Period of Climate Change

Scientists from several major research institutions have determined that, on average, ecosystems must shift 0.42 kilometers (approximately half of a mile) each year to keep pace with current climate changes. The shifts are projected to be greatest in dry, arid climates like deserts and mildest in hot and humid areas such as sub-tropical rain forests, but every region is affected by climate change to some degree.
 The current (right) and projected (left) future distribution of snowshoe hares (Credit: Dr. Healy Hamilton, California Academy of Sciences)
The current (right) and projected (left) 
future distribution of snowshoe hares 
(Credit: Dr. Healy Hamilton, 
California Academy of Sciences)

The team, comprised of scientists from the California Academy of Sciences, the Carnegie Institutes, Climate Central, and the University of California at Berkeley, used intermediate models for projected greenhouse gas emissions and a large database of projected future climate data to determine specific shifts in biomes. While the study focused on climate and not resident species of flora or fauna, implications for those species that cannot adapt to temperature changes are obvious and severe.

According to the results of this study, many currently protected regions will no longer be suitable for intended residents or current plant life within 100 years. These plants and animals may not have anywhere left to migrate or be able to migrate at speeds commensurate to the rate of ecoshift, creating the potential for mass extinctions of a variety of species (especially those with very strict and very narrow temperature requirements). Plants are particularly susceptible to extinction since they can only migrate as fast as seedlings can travel from their rooted parent.

The regions with the fastest climate changes may not be the regions with the greatest potential impact on native life. The size of protected regions or of areas with similar temperatures plays a large role as well. Although desert regions will likely shift very quickly, most of these areas are enormous. Animals should be able to move with the temperature shifts and adopt quickly. Migration needs should also be minimal in mountainous regions where the temperatures vary greatly with small moves up and down the slopes. As one spot becomes too hot or too cold for a species, another location very nearby should suit their needs. Proximity to human settlement is also an issue as no matter how fast a species can migrate, it cannot move into land that’s already been developed for other uses.

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TFOT has previously reported on the European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite designed in part to gather information about ocean circulation, changes to sea level, and other factors related to climate change. TFOT has also reported on innovative ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions including a new material capable of absorbing the carbon dioxide emitted through coal-fired power plants, the Carbon Hero device that helps make people aware of their personal carbon footprints in the hopes that they will reduce them, and a church in Rome built with materials that oxidize carbon contaminants when exposed to UV light from the sun.

Read more about the climate change and ecoshift study in this Carnegie Institute’s press release and more about biodiversity and climate change at study participant Dr. Healy Hamilton’s California Academy of Sciences website

Icon image credit: Szeder László