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Climate change could cause sudden biodiversity losses worldwide - University College London

A warming global climate could cause sudden, potentially catastrophic losses of biodiversity in regions across the globe throughout the 21st century, finds a new UCL-led study.

The findings, published today in Nature, predict when and where there could be severe ecological disruption in the coming decades, and suggests that the first waves could already be happening.

The study’s lead author, Dr Alex Pigot (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research): “We found that climate change risks to biodiversity don’t increase gradually. Instead, as the climate warms, within a certain area most species will be able to cope for a while, before crossing a temperature threshold, when a large proportion of the species will suddenly face conditions they’ve never experienced before. It’s not a slippery slope, but a series of cliff edges, hitting different areas at different times.”

Dr Pigot and colleagues from the USA and South Africa were seeking to predict threats to biodiversity over the course of the 21st century, rather than a single-year snapshot. They used climate model data from 1850 to 2005, and cross-referenced it with the geographic ranges of 30,652 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and other animals and plants. The data was available for areas across the globe, divided up into 100 by 100 km square grid cells.

Read the paper: Trisos, C.H., Merow, C. & Pigot, A.L. The projected timing of abrupt ecological disruption from climate change. Nature (2020). doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-2189-9

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