From: Steve Gorman, Reuters, Environmental Health News, More from this Affiliate
Published December 26, 2009 11:30 AM

Ecosystems strain to keep pace with climate

Earth's various ecosystems, with all their plants and animals, will need to shift about a quarter-mile per year on average to keep pace with global climate change, scientists said in a study released on Wednesday.

How well particular species can survive rising worldwide temperatures attributed to excess levels of heat-trapping "greenhouse" gases emitted by human activity hinges on those species' ability to migrate or adapt in place.


The farther individual species -- from shrubs and trees to insects, birds and mammals -- need to move to stay within their preferred climate, the greater their chance of extinction.

The study suggests that scientists and governments should update habitat conservation strategies that have long emphasized drawing boundaries around environmentally sensitive areas and restricting development within those borders.

A more "dynamic" focus should be placed on establishing wildlife corridors and pathways linking fragmented habitats, said research co-author Healy Hamilton of the California Academy of Sciences.

"Things are on the move, faster than we anticipated," she told Reuters. "This rate of projected climate change is just about the same as a slow-motion meteorite in terms of the speed at which it's asking a species to respond."

The new research suggests that denizens of mountainous habitats will experience the slowest rates of climate change because they can track relatively large swings in temperature by moving just a short distance up or down slope.

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