Friday, March 15, 2013

Nature adapts to survive climate change

Jonathan Silver in Reuters: While the climate change discussion in Washington is moving at a glacial pace, nature is responding to climate change at record speed. The animal, plant and insect kingdoms aren’t interested in public policy. They don’t read political blogs. They adapt because they have to. They must change to survive. We would be wise to heed the signs.

Animals, plants and even insects are now adapting quickly to shifts in temperatures, often by migrating to cooler climates, modifying their diets and altering breeding cycles.

This is happening at blinding speed in large, complex ecosystems. Throughout most of the 20th century, for example, tree range shift occurred at about 0.4 miles a year. Since 1990, however, climate changes have caused species range to move by an average of 12 miles a year. A 2009 U.S. Forest Service study, tracking 40 major tree species in 30 Eastern states, concluded that tree ranges had moved, on average, more than 60 miles north in less than a century.

More than 60 percent of the birds the National Wildlife Federation tracked in a recent study have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the last 40 years. Fourteen small mammal species in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were found to have extended the elevation at which they can survive by an average of 1,640 feet.

...The climate may now be changing so quickly that some species do not have time to adapt. With the Antarctic warming, for example, penguins now need to lay their eggs far earlier, according to research at Stony Brook University in New York. Yet of the three species studied – the Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo – only the Gentoo has been able to adapt quickly. As a result, that population has exploded, while the other two are dwindling....

A gentoo penguin in Antarctica, shot by christopher, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license


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