The Journey Of Species To Beat the Heat

Friday, August 19th 2011. | Science News

Across the globe, plants and animals are creeping, crawling, slithering and flying to higher altitudes and higher latitudes as global temperatures climb. Moreover, the greater the warming in any given region, the further its plants and animals have migrated, according to the largest analysis to date of the rapidly shifting ranges of species in Europe, North America, Chile and Malaysia.

”The more warming there’s been in an area, the more you would expect a species to move, and the more they have moved,” said Chris Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of York who led the work published in the journal Science.

”This … puts to bed the issue of whether these shifts are related to climate change. There isn’t any obvious alternative explanation for why species should be moving pole-ward in studies around the world.” The new analysis re-examined more than 100 previous studies to give a global picture of altitude shifts in 23 groups of plants and animals and latitude shifts in 31 groups.

While great variation was found in how far individual species had shifted over the decades, a trend was clear. On average, species migrated uphill about 11 metres per decade and moved away from the equator – to cooler, higher latitudes – at 16 kilometres per decade. These rates are two to three times faster than those estimated by the last major migration analysis, published in 2003.

Mountain species, in particular, ”are struggling to keep pace” with global warming, says Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Arizona-based Centre for Biological Diversity. ”We’re concerned many species won’t be able to move quickly enough.”

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