Climate Change to Wipe out 16% of World's Species?

By Bagley, Katherine | Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque), May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Climate Change to Wipe out 16% of World's Species?


Bagley, Katherine, Telegraph - Herald (Dubuque)


If countries' greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked, 1 in every 6 species on the planet could go extinct.

That is the finding of new research published this week in the journal Science. Climate change is a big factor in what has been tagged "The Sixth Extinction," potentially the worst die-off in Earth's history since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. Ecologists warn it could threaten our economy, food security and human health.

"Imagine if we lose an important predator for an agricultural pest," said Mark Urban, an expert in ecology and evolution at the University of Connecticut and author of the new study. "Suddenly, we have a major pest problem that threatens our ability to grow food."

Plants, animals, birds and insects on land and in oceans already are struggling to adapt. Their habitats are shifting in response to warming temperatures, as rainfall patterns change, and as the other species they rely on for nourishment or protection shift as well. The American pika, a small mouse-like mammal intolerant of heat, for example, already has disappeared from more than one-third of its known mountain habitats.

Warming ocean temperatures are threatening coral across the globe. Sea level rise is eliminating the mangrove forest habitats of India's tigers and shrinking the South American beaches used by sea turtles to lay their eggs.

Predicted extinction risks from climate change by continent. South America faces the highest potential die-off, with 23 percent of its species likely to disappear because of global warming. Australia and New Zealand could see 14 percent of their species go extinct.

The extinctions also could restrict humans' ability to fight climate change as biologically rich carbon sinks like the Amazon rainforest begin to disappear. There's also the critical role that biodiversity has played in culture and art across the globe for millennia. …

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