IUCN study finds entire ecosystems affected by climate change

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Global changes in temperature have already impacted every aspect of life on Earth from genes to entire ecosystems, with increasingly worrying consequences for humans, according to a new study by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group (SSC CCSG), published in the journal Science.

The study found that more than 80 per cent of the ecological processes that form the foundation for healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems are already showing signs of distress and altering as a response to climate change.

Analyzing 94 ecological processes, they found changes such as change in individual genes, significant shifts in species’ physiology and physical features such as body size and the movement of species into entirely new areas.

On land and in the oceans, many ecosystems are becoming unrecognisable, with Arctic tundra ecosystems becoming dominated by boreal and temperate organisms, and temperate marine ecosystems becoming dominated by tropical organisms.

“We now have evidence that, with only a ~1oC of warming globally, major impacts are already being felt,” says study lead author Dr Brett Scheffers, member of the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group and assistant professor at the University of Florida.

Pointing to the study ‘s implications for climate agreements, co-author and Chair of the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group  says, “Countries’ current commitments reduce global temperature rise to around 3oC, but we’re showing that there are already serious impacts right across biological systems at 1oC. If we’re going to keep natural systems delivering the services we rely so heavily on, it’s imperative that we step up our efforts.”

Many climate change impacts on species and ecosystems can affect people, with consequences ranging from increased pest and disease outbreaks, reduced productivity in fisheries, and decreasing agricultural yields.

However, the study also hopes that nature’s responses to climate change could be used to inform human adaptive measures to our crops, livestock and fisheries.

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