Global Warming: Species Migrations & Extinctions

Everything we eat is a species, every disease vector is a species, every bacteria is a species. Everything in our biological world is a species. How are they all going to respond to changing climate? … there are three possible ways: you can move … you can evolve … or, you can die out.

Elizabeth Kolbert on Open Source

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Where will I go? What will I do? [The Horned Jew Lizard / Flickr]

It’s global warming time again. This hour with a chill warning from New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert about how changes in temperature and weather patterns will drive — are already driving — animals, plants, and bugs to migrate and evolve. And sometimes to die out.

If the earth’s temperature rises just three degrees (which, on our current trajectory, it’s scheduled to do before 2050), it’ll be hotter than at any time in the last 2 million years. So that means a climate that life on this planet has never confronted before. And a rate of change that might make Charles Darwin roll over in his grave: he figured out that life evolves to adapt to its environment, but Kolbert points out that he didn’t envision an environment changing so rapidly that we’d be able to observe evolution at work the climate changing so rapidly that it would spur evolution we could watch. [Thank you bft.]

In terms of species extinctions, according to a 2004 study published in Nature, mid-range warming projections mean extinction of 15-35% of land-based plants and animals by 2050. In other words: over a million species. And that’s just on land. Scientific American just published a study on global warming changing the acid balance of seawater — and the potentially major repercussions for ocean life.

So: What species will be most affected and where? Where will they go (if they survive)? What obstacles will they face as they migrate? What kinds of species will adapt/evolve most rapidly? How will that affect complicated ecosystems that evolved over long time scales? What can we do?

Elizabeth Kolbert

Staff writer, The New Yorker

Author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Connie Millar

Research paleoecologist, U.S. Forest Service

Camille Parmesan

Population biologist, University of Texas

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