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Biology Articles » Biodiversity » Can Biodiversity Persist In The Face Of Climate Change?
Predictions made over the last decade about the impacts of climate
change on biodiversity may be exaggerated, according to a paper
published in the journal Science.
Oxford University researchers, Professor Kathy Willis and Dr Shonil
Bhagwat, argue that predicting the fate of biodiversity in the face of
climate change is 'fraught with caveats and complexities'.
They say that several larger-scale models are failing to take into
account local, more detailed variations and that models often
underestimate the full capacity of plants and animals to adapt to a
The researchers' view is that these factors 'seriously alter the
model predictions'. They suggest that 'we should expect to see species
turnover, migrations, and novel communities, but not necessarily the
levels of extinction previously predicted'.
Their synthesis of research highlights the contradictions in
previous studies about the likely survival rates of alpine plants in
the Swiss Alps, European butterfly populations and the South American
'These studies highlight the level of complexity that we are faced
with in trying to model and predict the possible consequences of future
climate change on biodiversity,' the paper says. The researchers say
the mixed picture that is emerging from previous studies also
emphasises a high level of persistence in many communities.
Although over three quarters of the earth's deserts, grasslands,
forests and tundra have changed because of human activity, the
researchers say that even in this fragmented landscape species are
surviving better than was previously predicted. The paper cites more
recent studies and concludes that even in altered landscapes 'all is
not lost for biodiversity'.
The researchers point to a study into 785 animal species across six
continents, which suggests the most important factor for occupancy is
the quality of the animals' immediate environment rather than whether
their habitat is shrinking. Their paper also highlights a study of
forest butterflies in West Africa, which found that despite an 87 per
cent reduction in forest cover, 97 per cent of species are still
Professor Kathy Willis, from the School for Geography and the
Environment, expresses some caution about the apparent ability of
species to survive in a more fragmented habitat. She said: 'Presence or
absence does not take into account lag effects of declining
populations. Therefore, a more worrying interpretation is that the full
effects of fragmentation will only be seen in future years.'
The paper also highlights a serious issue for future
conservationists, arguing that the definition of 'natural' is changing
Dr Shonil Bhagwat, from the School of Geography and the Environment,
said: 'Although every measure should be put in place to reduce the
further fragmentation of reserves, we cannot turn back the clock. We
need to determine what represents a "good" intervention to preserve
animal habitats in the countryside and in towns and cities.
Furthermore, we will increasingly see new ecosystems emerging as a
result of climate changes and so what is "natural" is going to require
a whole new definition.'
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