Climate Change Info Needed to Save Wildlife

     (CN) — With the impact of climate change on future biodiversity still largely unknown, an international group of biologists wants to predict how climate change will affect species competition and movement — factors that can have a significant influence on survival or extinction.
     While sophisticated forecasting models exist, important species information needed to improve predictions is generally lacking. In an article published Friday, the biologists called for a coordinated effort to measure five key types of biological information — physiology, life history, species interactions, genetic variation, and dispersal — that impact species survival in order to identify at-risk populations and ecosystems and better target the distribution of resources as global temperatures continue to climb.
     “Right now, we’re treating a mouse the same way as an elephant or a fish or a tree,” lead author Mark Urban said. “Yet we know that those are all very different organisms and they are going to respond to their environment in different ways,”
     Existing climate change models draw predictions for biodiversity from broad statistical relationships and can vary significantly, which makes it difficult for scientists and policymakers to respond accordingly. These models often fail to account for a wide range of biological factors that impact an organism’s survival rate, such as species mobility, competition from other organisms and the capacity to adapt and evolve.
     “This is because current ecological models often do not include important biological processes and mechanisms: so far only 23 percent of the reviewed studies have taken into account biological mechanisms,” said study co-author Karin Johst.
     Improving the accuracy of predictions is essential for global conservations efforts, as many species are already migrating to higher ground or toward the poles, seeking cooler temperatures.
     However, the capacity to survive varies significantly between different species.
     Some species of frog, for example, can travel miles to remain in a habitable environment, while others — like some types of salamander — are less mobile and can move only a few feet over generations.
     “New Zealand’s strong foundation in ecological research will help. 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,” said William Godsoe, a study co-author and member of New Zealand’s Bio-Protection Research Centre.
     There are more than 8.7 million species worldwide, which creates logistical challenges for gathering the necessary biological information to improve predictions, but even a sampling of key species would be beneficial, the authors said. The more sophisticated models will allow scientists to expand their predictions and apply them to multiple species with similar traits.
     “Our biggest challenge is pinpointing which species to concentrate on and which regions we need to allocate resources,” Urban said. “We are at a triage stage at this point. We have limited resources and patients lined up at the door.”
     The team is calling for a global campaign to study species and enhance existing predictions for their survival, in addition to encouraging conservation strategies to support biodiversity.

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