Science shows more species are at risk

According to a recent report in Philosophical Transactions published by the Royal Society, Britain’s Academy of Sciences, it’s time to step up the pace about species conservation.

According to a recent report in Philosophical Transactions published by the Royal Society, Britain’s Academy of Sciences, it’s time to step up the pace about species conservation.

“A global strategy is necessary to achieve the level of coordination, synergy and therefore optimization of resources to achieve the broad goal of conserving mammals worldwide,” wrote authors Carlo Rondinini and Luigi Boitani with the Global Mammal Assessment Program based in Rome’s Sapienza University and Ana Rodrigues with France’s Centre for Functional Ecology.

A total of 5,339 mammals are documented globally and, while some of them still maintain healthy populations, the long-term conservation status of many is considered precarious. An estimated 25 per cent of all mammals are threatened with extinction and their condition is deteriorating while many others are vulnerable or of special concern.

They stressed that a global conservation strategy would help to preserving numbers but, as of now, there isn’t any widely recognized approach in play to solve this problem despite all the datasets on each individual species. They want to see a global interlocking strategy that can build from the existing material and dialogue seen at the Convention for Biological Diversity along the lines that were done for the Global Plant Conservation Strategy.

When it comes to factors that threaten species, they can be many and varied and predominantly it has been habitat loss. But complicating the mix is climate change and many species are already getting a head’s up on that and making a move. Literally.

In a major compilation of studies on species migrations, biologists at the U.K.’s University of York have found there is a clear trend in movements toward cooler climates. And, significantly, animals are responding to a warming world and moving to cooler climates up to three times faster than anticipated.

The researchers analyzed data on over 2,000 animal and plant species including birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, spiders, other invertebrates, and plants. For instance the comma butterfly has moved 220 kilometres north from central England to Edinburgh in just two decades. Moths have moved on average 67 metres uphill on Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. Warmer waters are altering Pacific salmon spawning and migration routes.

Some species have moved to higher elevations at 12.2 metres per decade and, more dramatically, others have moved to higher latitudes at 17.6 kilometres per decade. The study is the first to show that species are moving the furthest where the climate has warmed the most, clearly linking global warming with species adaptation

“This research shows that it is global warming that is causing species to move toward the poles and to higher elevations,” said lead author Dr. I-Ching Chen, previously a PhD student at York and now a researcher at the Academia Sinica in Taiwan. “We have for the first time shown that the amount by which the distributions of species have changed is correlated with the amount the climate has changed in that region.”

Some species have moved more slowly than expected, some have not moved, and some have retreated. But other species have moved rapidly, perhaps driven by other factors that a warming climate is also triggering.

“These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the Equator at around 20 cm per hour for every hour of the day, every day of the year,” said project leader Chris Thomas, professor of conservation biology at York. “This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of this century.”

In the coming years that recommended global conservation mammal strategy alongside strategies that address the needs of all other life forms is going to come sharply into focus.