17. September 2018

Future climate change overtakes nature’s ability to follow

A research team led by the DNRF’s Center for Macroecology, Evolution, and Climate (CMEC) has examined how biodiversity reacts to climate change through time. The conclusion is that the diversity in nature can no longer keep up. The study has been published in the scientific journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Two butterflies in nature.
Two butterflies in nature. Photo: © 2017 Jee & Rani Nature Photography

Until now, researchers believed that species’ main reaction to climate change is to migrate. But a new study, led by basic research center CMEC, points to the fact that local adaptations to environmental change play a crucial role for biodiversity and that future climate changes are developing with such intensity and speed that the animals can no longer keep the pace.

“The study confirms that climate is an engine that runs animals over if they can’t adapt to temperature changes in time,” explained David Nogués-Bravo, a lector from CMEC who is the lead author of the scientific article.

The study is based on examinations of previous research that investigates animals’ reactions to diverse climate changes over time. Taking past examinations as its point of departure, the team of international researchers behind the study set forth how animals can adapt to future climate change in time. The most central question regards whether the animals can continue to follow the pace of the environmental changes in the future.

“We can see that there have been climate changes in the past, where it has become colder or warmer, but the conjectures aren’t on the same scale as the ones we see today as well as the ones in the future,” Nogués-Bravo explained.

One of the researchers’ biggest concerns is the globe’s fast-growing temperature because high temperatures can cause serious damage to biodiversity. Since smaller climate changes have previously been sufficient to make several species become extinct, it is not unlikely that today’s extreme increase of CO2 can make the global average temperature rise by 2 to 5 degrees before 2100 and thus make even more species become extinct.

However, the researchers point to the fact that despite the topicality of the case, gaps do exist in our knowledge of exactly how animals react to global climate changes. Therefore, the researchers in this study have been working with what we know for sure about animals’ overall reactions to climate changes. When animals are exposed to environmental changes, three of the following scenarios can take place, according to Nogués-Bravo: they can adapt to the changes, migrate to another place, or become extinct.

The new study from CMEC is an outline study based on more than 100 previous studies from research fields in paleobiology, ecology, and evolutionary biology, among others. All of the applied studies examined periods with climate changes similar to the ones we see today.

Read the scientific article at Trends in Ecology and Evolution here.

More information about the study can be found at Copenhagen University here.

Sign up for our newsletter