9 September 2016
Call to arms to avert climate change species losses
A group of international scientists is calling for a coordinated global effort to help predict how climate change will
affect species and to protect future biodiversity.
Changes in global temperatures are already having an impact on the diversity and distribution of living things
worldwide. Some species may be able to adapt and survive these changes, while others may not. In New Zealand, climate
change is particularly important as there are many rare and unique plants and animals, some of which are already under
threat from invasive pests and habitat loss.
Using sophisticated mathematical models, scientists can forecast outcomes, but these models are only as good as the
available data. The recent study, ‘Improving the forecast for biodiversity under climate change’ published in Science,
describes six key types of biological information, including life history, physiology, genetic variation, species
interactions, dispersal and evolution, that will help predict outcomes for individual species.
“New Zealand’s strong foundation in ecological research will help,” explains study co-author Dr William Godsoe, a
Lincoln University lecturer and investigator in the Bio-Protection Research Centre. “One of our hopes is to build on
these strengths and highlight new opportunities to improve predictions by explicitly considering evolution, interactions
among species, and dispersal.” This will aid the development of strategies to manage impacts on species and ecosystems
before they become critical.
“Right now, we’re treating a mouse the same way as an elephant or a fish or a tree. Yet we know that those are all very
different organisms and they are going to respond to their environment in different ways,” says the study’s lead author
Associate Professor Mark Urban from the University of Connecticut.
The team have challenged the research community to capture this information. “We need to pull on our boots, grab our
binoculars, and go back into the field to gather these key bits of information if we are going to make realistic
predictions,” says Associate Professor Urban.
With more than 8.7 million species worldwide, gathering the necessary biological information to improve predictions is a
daunting task. Even a sampling of key species would be beneficial, the scientists say, as the more sophisticated models
will allow them to extrapolate their predictions and apply them to species with similar traits.
“Our biggest challenge is pinpointing which species to concentrate on and which regions we need to allocate resources,”
says Associate Professor Urban, who, through an earlier study in Science, predicted that as many as one in six species
internationally could be wiped out by climate change.
In New Zealand, the Department of Conservation has identified several threatened species with limited distributions and
low genetic variation that are likely to be affected by climate change, including iconic species, such as tuatara,
little spotted kiwi, black robin, takahē, black-eyed gecko and Archey’s frog. The tuatara is of particular concern
because the sex of their offspring is determined by temperature, with fewer females being produced at higher
The researchers are calling for the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) to
spearhead a global campaign to capture the information needed, and are also encouraging conservation strategies to
support biodiversity such as maintaining dispersal corridors, and preserving existing natural habitats and genetic