The Heat Is Online

Warming Affecting Species Around the World

Effects of Climate Warming Already in Evidence

Environmental News Service, March 29, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC, March 29, 2002 (ENS) - Ecosystems around the globe are showing the effects of climate warming. Earlier arrival of migrant birds, earlier appearance of butterflies, earlier spawning in amphibians, earlier flowering of plants - spring has been coming sooner every year since the 1960s, researchers reported Wednesday.

The report from German scientists investigates all regions of the globe. They predict some species will vanish because they cannot expand into new areas when their native climate heats up.

"Although we are only at an early stage in the projected trends of global warming, ecological responses to recent climate change are already clearly visible," write Gian-Reto Walther of the University of Hanover, Germany, and colleagues in this week's issue of the journal "Nature."

After reviewing changes in various animal and plant populations over the past 30 years of warming at the end of the 20th century, the authors found "a coherent pattern of ecological change across systems" from the poles to the equatorial seas.

"There is now ample evidence that these recent climatic changes have affected a broad range of organisms with diverse geographical distributions," Walther and his team report.

"The implications of such large scale, consistent responses to relatively low average rates of climate change are large," the researchers warn, adding that, "the projected warming for the coming decades raises even more concern about its ecological and socio-economic consequences."

The Earth's climate has warmed by about 0.6 degrees Celsius over the past 100 years, the researchers note. Starting around 1976, the rate of global warming more than doubled, changing faster than at any other time during the last 1,000 years.

However, average global climate has far less effect on local ecosystems than do local and regional climate changes.

The reproduction of amphibians and reptiles is disrupted by changes in temperature and humidity. In painted turtles, the ration of male to female offspring is related to the mean July temperature, said Walther, and the production of male offspring could be compromised even by modest temperature increases.

In the polar regions, winter freezes are now occurring later and ending earlier, leading to a 10 percent decrease in snow and ice cover since the late 1960s.

These dramatic local changes are having equally dramatic effects on cold weather species such as penguins, seals and polar bears, the researchers found.

Miniscule Southern Ocean crustaceans called krill, a key food source for higher predators such as penguins and other seabirds, whales, seals, as well as a fishery target, are being influenced by climate change. Walther's team found the warming climate is affecting the reproductive grounds of krill by reducing the area of sea ice formed near the Antarctic Peninsula, which leads to both food web and human economic consequences.

Rapid environmental warming has been reported over the last 30 to 50 years at a number of stations in the Antarctic, particularly in the Antarctic Peninsula region and on sub-Antarctic islands, along with changes in precipitation patterns.

Likewise, tropical oceans have increased in temperature by up to eight degrees Celsius over the past 100 years, the research team has found, triggering widespread coral bleaching.

Climate linked invasions of warm weather species into traditionally colder areas includes the immigration of unwanted neighbors - epidemic diseases. "There is much evidence that a steady rise in annual temperatures has been associated with expanding mosquito borne diseases in the highlands of Asia, East Africa and Latin America," the study says.

Geographical differences are evident for both plants and birds, with delayed rather than earlier onset of spring phases in southeastern Europe, incuding later bird arrival in the Slovak Republic, and a later start f the growing season in the Balkan region, the team has found.

Later onset of autumn changes were recorded, too, but these shifts are less pronounced and show a more variable pattern. In Europe, for example, the length of the growing season has increased in some areas by up to 3.6 days per decade over the past 50 years.

Overall, Walther's team reports, "trends of range changes show remarkable internal consistency between studies relating to glaciers, plant and insect ranges and shifting isotherms," which are lines of constant temperature.

The study concludes that based on the evidence "only 30 years of warmer temperatures at the end of the 20th century have affected the phenology [timing of seasonal activities] of organisms, the range and distribution of species, and the composition and dynamics of communities."

Global warming hits species all over world

Reuters News Service, March 28, 2002

LONDON - From dying coral reefs to later autumns and endangered male painted turtles, global warming has started to affect plant and animal life across the planet, scientists said yesterday.

The world's mean temperature increased by around 0.6 degrees Celsius in the 20th century - most of the rise came in the last 30 years - and its impact is already being felt by flora and fauna from the equator to the poles.

Some species are doomed as they battle ever-rising temperatures in an increasingly crowded planet that offers fewer escape routes, according to scientists writing in the journal Nature.

"Temperature has increased by no more than 0.6 degrees and already the signs are very obvious," said geobotanist Gian-Reto Walther from the University of Hanover in Germany, who collated the research from across the branches of the natural sciences.

The study's conclusions highlight the seriousness of global climate change by showing parallel trends in plants, birds, animals and fish.

"This is a major concern," Walther told Reuters, adding extinction for some species was inevitable.

"The big difference between now and previous periods of climate change, like the Ice Age, is that seven billion people live on earth now and many migration corridors for species are blocked," Walther said.

One of the most dramatic barometers of climate change has been the world's coral reefs, which have been devastated by 'coral bleaching' - a direct result of warmer ocean water.

In the worst case of mass bleaching, in 1998, an estimated 16 percent of the world's reef-building coral died, Nature said.

Meanwhile in Europe, trees are starting to show their autumn colour between 0.3 and 1.6 days later per decade, while some migrating birds are changing their travel plans.

Walther welcomed governments' gradual waking-up to the problems of climate change, widely recognised as the result of so-called greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, but said nobody had a clue where it would all end.

"It is good they are now talking about measures to try and keep at a certain level of emissions. Maybe this can slow the warming process, but so far there is no measurement of how it is slowing," Walther said.

Britain's Meteorological Office predicts global temperatures will rise between 1.4 degrees Celsius and nearly six degrees over the next century, depending on the success of greenhouse gas policies.

Even at the lower end of these estimates, the outlook is bleak for the male painted turtle.

"In painted turtles, offspring sex ratio is highly correlated with mean July temperature, and the production of male offspring would be potentially compromised even by modest (two to four degrees) temperature increases," Nature said.