Sunday, January 24, 2010

It's not just about us - climate change, mountain ecosystems and species extinction

Recently I went hiking in the mountains (see the photos). I got me to thinking, how will climate change affect ecosystems in spectacular and otherwise pristine part of the world such as this?

Quite a lot of science is being done to try to answer these questions. Generally the response is called "the escalator effect", as it gets hotter species move up the mountain. In a more temperate zone such as photographed, there is (luckily) room to move, but in tropical mountain areas (such as the rainforests of north queensland) mountain tops are already occupied meaning the only place for some species to go is extinct.

Changes in climate also affect things like rainfall, the start and end of growing seasons, the distributions of invasive species and pathogens, which can also stress species and ecosystems even if there is room to move. Faster moving species such as butterflies risk becoming separated from potentially slower moving trees and plants which form their natural ecosystem and food source.

While some species will adapt, the lack of suitable habitat, ecosystem disruption and also the sheer speed of the current global warming will see the extinction of many many species. In fact, this is already being observed and actually began decades ago. Predictions for the future suggest large numbers of species worldwide will be committed to extinction by 2050 due to the effects of climate change.

So remember, in trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, it's not just our own skins we're trying to save.

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