Innovative global maps by the CSIRO and an international team of scientists show how species distributions are changing under climate change.
They also show where species are likely to succeed or fail in keeping up in a warming world, information that could help target conservation strategies.
Published today in the journal Nature, the maps show where new temperature conditions are being generated and where existing climate niches may vanish. They indicate the expected direction and rate that plants and animals could shift, both on land and in oceans, highlighting how complex these spatial responses are likely to be.
Importantly, the maps indicate areas that species could come up against areas — mainly coastlines or high land — where suitable climate conditions disappear locally. Termed “sinks” in the study, they could block the movement of species attempting to track their optimal climate conditions.
The study focuses on the Australian continent as a key example. According to CSIRO scientist and study co-author Elvira Poloczanska, “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 Nature study builds on important earlier modelling work that flags the risk of the velocity of climate change, and also on studies of novel and disappearing climates, where biodiversity loss is expected to be greater.
Burrows et al. (2014) Geographical limits to species-range shifts are suggested by climate velocity. Nature doi:10.1038/nature12976.
CSIRO (2014) New maps reveal locations of species at risk as climate changes. CSIRO Climate Response Blog.
UCSB (2014) Maps Show Expected Redistribution of Global Species Due to Climate Change. Media Statement.