May 22, 2006

Climate change could wipe out thousands of species in biodiversity "hot spots," says study

Climate change will cause an unprecedented extinction of tens of thousands of species around the world, says a groundbreaking study recently published in the scientific journal Conservation Biology. It is the first study to document the extreme vulnerability of biological hotspots around the world to the effects of climate change.

"Climate change is rapidly becoming the most serious threat to the planet's biodiversity," said Dr Jay Malcolm, the study's lead author and an associate forestry professor at the University of Toronto.

Dr Malcolm was part of an international group of scientists who studied changes in species habitats in 25 areas around the world in which a disproportionate number of the world's species are found. Although these areas, termed "hotspots" for global biodiversity, cover only about 1% of the earth's land surface, they are home to 44% of the world's plants and 35% of the vertebrates.

Areas found particularly vulnerable to climate change include the tropical Andes, the Cape Floristic region of South Africa, southwest Australia, and the Atlantic forests of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

The study found that endemic species, i.e. animals and plants that are highly restricted in where they can live, are particularly at risk from the effects of climate change. Canada's far north, along with the Rocky Mountains and BC's Queen Charlotte Islands are home to many such species, including many types of fish, butterflies and plants.

The study was carried out by scientists from the University of Toronto, the University of New England, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International. The research was funded by the David Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Fund, the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

"Although Canada wasn't included in the study, the results serve as a warning of the kinds of effects climate change will have on our wild spaces," said Dr Faisal Moola, director of science for the David Suzuki Foundation. "This is because many of the factors that the study found to increase the risk of extinction due to climate change are of great importance in Canada as well."

The study report, "Global Warming and Extinctions of Endemic Species From Biodiversity Hotspots," may be viewed on-line at http://individual.utoronto.ca/jay_malcolm/.

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