From: Julie Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara
Published February 11, 2014 09:41 AM

Climate migration in the face of climate change

As climate change unfolds over the next century, plants and animals will need to adapt or shift locations to follow their ideal climate. A new study provides an innovative global map of where species are likely to succeed or fail in keeping up with a changing climate. The findings appear in the science journal Nature.

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As part of a UC Santa Barbara National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) working group, 18 international researchers analyzed 50 years of sea surface and land temperature data (1960-2009). They also projected temperature changes under two future scenarios, one that assumes greenhouse gas emissions are stabilized by 2100 and a second that assumes these emissions continue to increase. The resulting maps display where new temperature conditions are being generated and where existing environments may disappear.

This rare global study, which examines scenarios both on land and in the ocean, demonstrates that climate migration is far more complex than a simple shift toward the poles. "As species move to track their ideal temperature conditions, they will sometimes run into what we call a 'climate sink,' where the preferred climate simply disappears leaving species nowhere to go because they are up against a coastline or other barrier," explained Carrie Kappel, an NCEAS associate and one of the paper's authors. "There are a number of those sinks around the world where movement is blocked by a coastline, like in the northern Adriatic Sea or the northern Gulf of Mexico, and there's no way out because it's warmer everywhere behind."

Australia offers a terrestrial example. There, species already experiencing warmer temperatures have started to seek relief by moving to higher elevations, or farther south. However, some species of animals and plants cannot move large distances, and some cannot move at all.

"Species migration can have important consequences for local biodiversity," said corresponding author Elvira Poloczanska, a research scientist with the Climate Adaptation Flagship of Australia's national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Brisbane. "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 one of the harshest places on Earth."

The maps generated from the study data not only show areas where plants and animals may struggle to find new homes in a changing climate but also provide crucial information for targeting conservation efforts — information that could help conservation planners think more strategically about how best to manage biodiversity for future sustainability.

Read more at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Fifty-year climate trajectory models via UCSB.

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