Secrets of past warming help protect future ecosystems. In a new study from the University of Copenhagen, an international team of scientists has identified past global warming events similar to those anticipated in the coming decades. By analyzing the biodiversity impacts of climate warming in the past, experts can get a better understanding of what will happen in the future.
“Conservation biologists are taking full advantage of the long-term history of the planet as recorded in paleo-archives, such as those gathered by the team, to understand biological responses to abrupt climate changes of the past, quantify trends, and develop scenarios of future biodiversity loss from climate change,” said study lead author Damien Fordham.
“Studying locations in regions such as the Arctic, Eurasia, the Amazon and New Zealand can yield knowledge of how climate has changed and how this has impacted plants and animals,” said study co-author Professor Dorthe Dahl-Jensen.
“Using advanced new methods, including the use of DNA to map biodiversity and precise methods for dating climate change, we have taken advantage of opportunities to find precise causalities. The past climate changes are similar to those that we expect in coming decades.”
The researchers mapped the prevalence of species based on fossil data archives. This analysis showed how individual plant and animal species, as well as entire ecosystems, responded to historical temperature increases.
“During large climate shifts of the past, such as the warming from the last ice age to our current interglacial period 11-18,000 years ago, Arctic temperatures have increased by more than 10 degrees Celsius. This is a warming of the same magnitude as the UN predicts can occur in the future, as is described in IPCC reports and forecasts,” explained Professor Dahl-Jensen.
The study revealed that some species, such as antelope, were able to migrate northward in response to global warming. Species like the Arctic fox, however, were not able to reach suitable habitat and were wiped out.
The findings can be used to predict how plants and animals will respond to future climate warming, and which species will become most threatened with extinction.
The research also indicates that many ecosystems are able to adapt to sudden climate change, even when migration is not an option. It is important to acquire more knowledge and better promote healthy ecosystems in the future.
“We have gained access to completely new knowledge about how ecosystems, plants and animals have responded to temperature increases similar to those that we are confronted with today and will be in the future,” said study co-author Professor Anders Svensson.
“We can use this knowledge to be at the forefront of protecting and conserving biodiversity. It provides knowledge for us to protect the species that remain.”
The study is published in the journal Science.