Nature's race against time as climate changes

Study shows how far animals must move to stay in temperature 'comfort zone'

A A A

Global temperatures are set to rise faster than the speed at which most animals and plants can move to cooler areas, according to a study estimating the velocity of climate change.

The scientists calculated that wildlife will have to migrate by a quarter of a mile each year on average if they are to keep within their temperature "comfort zone". But for some ecosystems, such as flooded grasslands and mangroves, some species will have to migrate more than twice as fast if they are to survive.

The study is based on the "intermediate" prediction for rises in global temperature over the coming century set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, even though the world is presently on a course for the "worst-case" scenario because of higher emissions of greenhouse gases.

Even so, the researchers estimated that nearly a third of the ecological habitats they studied will experience a rate of temperature rise that will be faster than the highest possible migration rates of the plants that live in these areas.

They also found that less than 10 per cent of the nature reserves in the world today will continue, in a hundred years from now, to maintain the range of climate conditions within their boundaries that would permit the continued survival of the animals and plants living there.

The study, published in the journal Nature, found that the expected increase in temperatures in most areas of the world will rise at a faster rate than the ability of wildlife to adapt, leading to mass extinction of species.

"One of the most powerful aspects of this data is that it allows us to evaluate how our current network of protected areas will perform as we attempt to conserve biodiversity in the face of global climate change," said Healy Hamilton of the California Academy of Sciences, an author of the study.

"When we look at residence time for protected areas, which we define as the amount of time it will take current climate conditions to move across and out of a given protected area, only 8 per cent of our current protected areas have a residence time of more than 100 years," Dr Hamilton said.

In general terms, wildlife in the northern hemisphere will have to move north while those in the southern hemisphere will need to move south to keep up with climate change. The scientists said that the knowledge of how fast species need to migrate will be useful in formulating strategies for helping vulnerable species to survive. British scientists have shown that it is possible to move some species of butterfly to similar but historically-cooler habitats further north. One "assisted colonisation" experiment in 1999 and 2000 involved moving the marbled white and small skipper butterflies from North Yorkshire to disused quarries in Co Durham and Northumberland.

The researchers, from Durham University and the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology, found that the butterflies thrived. However, the butterflies would not have been able to make the journey on their own because of the inhospitable terrain they had to cross.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor