WASHINGTON – Climate change could lead to the widespread loss of common plants and animals around the world, according to a study released Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
The study’s authors looked at 50,000 common species. They found that more than half the plants and about a third of the animals could lose about 50 percent of their range by 2080 if the world continues its current course of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change affects the availability of nutrition and water for animals and plants. The narrowing of the geographic range of different common species means that plants and animals readily found in a given area could diminish markedly in those areas over the next seven decades.
“This study … tells us that the average plant and animal will experience significant range loss under climate change,” said the study’s lead author, Rachel Warren, of the Tyndall Centre at University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.
Warren said that until now, much climate change research had focused on the plight of rare species rather than common animals and plants.
The study’s conclusions are “entirely consistent with what others are finding around the world,” said Peter B. Reich, professor of forest ecology at the University of Minnesota, who read the report.
The new study predicted that plants, reptiles and particularly amphibians would face the greatest risks from climate change. It also concluded that sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, the Amazon region and Australia would likely lose the most species of plants and animals. It projected “a major loss of plant species” in North Africa, Central Asia and South America.
According to Jeff Price, a co-author of the study and visiting fellow at the Tyndall Centre, “coffee, chocolate, teak, sugar maple, pineapple and cotton (at least some of the major types) all show large contractions in their climatic ranges under the baseline climate change scenario.”
The climactic range is the habitat where species not only exist, but also can thrive in numbers against competitors.
Reich said that in Minnesota, it appears very likely that spruce, fir and aspen forests will move north into Canada over the next several decades as the state warms.
While the study looked at the effects of climate change on species’ geographic range, it made conservative estimates about how global warming could stoke diseases, pests or natural disasters that would affect species, Warren said.
“Animals in particular may decline more as our predictions will be compounded by a loss of food from plants,” she said.
The study concludes that such widespread losses could be avoided if the world moved swiftly to reduce emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that cause climate change.
Immediate, substantial steps could reduce species losses by 60 percent and give plants and animals 40 more years to adapt, the study predicted.