Northern habitats threatened by climate change

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Trees, plants and flowers in the northern hemisphere will have to "migrate" northwards at up to a kilometre a year to survive global warming, a report suggested yesterday.

Trees, plants and flowers in the northern hemisphere will have to "migrate" northwards at up to a kilometre a year to survive global warming, a report suggested yesterday.

The shift, by seeding themselves in cooler latitudes, would be needed to escape the warmer temperatures brought about by climate change.

However, the rate at which they need to move is 10 times faster than forests spread at the end of the last ice age. This is unlikely to happen, and much habitat will be lost as vegetation dies, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reports.

By the end of the century, WWF says, up to one-third of the world's plant and animal habitats could be fundamentally altered, with the extinction or great reduction of some plant and animal species from the north, such as the snowy owl.

The report, "Global Warming and Terrestrial Biodiversity Decline", says in northern Canada, Russia and Scandinavia up to 70 per cent of habitat could be lost. Countries such as Latvia, Uruguay, Bhutan, Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan may lose 45 per cent or more of habitats.

"As global warming accelerates, plants and animals will come under pressure to migrate and find suitable habitats, and some will not be able to move fast enough," said Adam Markham, a report co-author.

In habitats that do survive, local species loss may be as high as 20 per cent. The species most at risk, the WWF says, are those that are rare or live inisolated or fragmented habitats. They include the monarch butterfly at its Mexican wintering grounds and the spoon-billed sandpiper at its breeding sites in Russia's Arctic east.

Britain may lose sub-alpine ecosystems on ranges such as the Cairngorms, and mountain birds such as the ptarmigan.

The predictions are based on a moderate estimate that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will double from pre-industrial levels this century.

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