Climate change to hit common species

A third of common land animals could see dramatic losses this century because of climate change.

More than half of plants could be hit the same way as habitats become unsuitable for numerous species.

The collapse of ecosystems would have major economic impacts on agriculture, air quality, clean water access, and tourism.

Global temperatures are set to rise 4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 if nothing is done to stem greenhouse gas emissions.

This could have a huge effect on thousands of common as well as rare and endangered species around the world, according to researchers.

Lead scientist Rachel Warren, from the University of East Anglia’s School of Environmental Science, said: “While there has been much research on the effect of climate change on rare and endangered species, little has been known about how an increase in global temperature will affect more common species.

“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems.”

An estimated 57% of plants and 34% of animals were likely to lose half or more of their habitat range.

However, damage would be reduced if emissions were cut in time. Losses are cut by 60% if global warming is cut to 2% above pre-industrial levels, with emissions peaking in 2016 and then falling by 5% a year. If emissions peak in 2030, losses are cut by 40%.

“Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world,” said Warren. “This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides.

“We looked at the effect of rising global temperatures, but other symptoms of climate change such as extreme weather events, pests, and diseases mean that our estimates are probably conservative. Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants.

“There will also be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for things like water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism.”

The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, are based on a biodiversity database listing 48,786 species and computer-run climate simulations.

Humans depend on natural ecosystems in a number of ways, said Warren. For instance, wetland vegetation helps filter and clean fresh water. Air quality is also affected by chemicals released and extracted by living systems, while tree and plant cover limit soil erosion and flood damage.

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