Widespread Local Plant & Animal Extinctions Already Occurring From Anthropogenic Climate Change, Research Shows

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There are already widespread local plant and animal species extinctions occurring as a result of anthropogenic climate change, new research from the University of Arizona has found.

Description Bufo periglenes

The new work determined that local extinctions have now already occurred in 47% of the 976 plant and animal species analyzed in the study, as a result of anthropogenic climate change.

Notably, the work — which relied some on earlier range-shift studies amongst various species — has shown that local extinctions have now occurred in the warmest parts of the ranges of more than 450 plant and animal species. The actual “local extinctions” number is of course likely to be much, much higher — these figures simply relate to well studied species and ranges.

It should be remembered here that average global temperatures have only risen by 1° to 1.5° Celsius (over pre-industrial times) so far. Given that temperatures are predicted to rise an additional 1° to 5° Celsius (or more) over the lifetimes of many of you reading this, as a result of continuing anthropogenic activity and activated positive feedback loops, earlier predictions of the extinction of a majority of the world’s multicellular life over the coming centuries seems likely to be proven true.

Even if one was to have no regard for anything in the world other than oneself, or other than an idealized “humanity” for that matter, it should be obvious that a mass extinction on the scale discussed above would greatly affect everything living in the world — through the collapse of various ecosystems, the destruction of various environmental “services,” the setting into motion of boom-and-bust cycles amongst “disaster taxa” that will continue for millennia, and the rapid spread of opportunistic pathogens and parasites in environments that have seen the protective effects of biodiversity disappear.

Humans, and the systems that they have created, would (or will) be greatly affected. The current system of mass-scale industrial agriculture will no doubt be forced to end (even if synthetic fertilizer shortages weren’t set to force an end over the next century anyways).

Anyway, the University of Arizona press release provides a bit more: “The study also tested the frequency of local extinction across different regions, habitats, and groups of organisms. It found that local extinctions occurred in about half of the species surveyed across different habitats and taxonomic groups. However, the results showed that local extinctions varied by region and were almost twice as common among tropical species as among temperate species. This is important as the majority of plant and animal species live in the tropics. The results of this study contribute to our understanding of how plants and animals will respond to global climate change and highlight the need to slow and prevent further warming.”

The new findings are detailed in a paper published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology. Those who want to see the article themselves can do so here.

As a side note to this, I want to draw attention to a recent article I did on a sister site that noted that there are now only ~7,100 cheetahs left in the world, and that they have now been driven out of 91% of their historic range. Not cool.

Photo: Bufo periglenes — “the Golden Toad” — was last recorded on May 15, 1989. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 license

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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