Species on the brink of fading away


Recent research has found that if nothing is done to counter the effects of global warming, by the year 2080, half of the common plants on earth and one third of animals will lose their climate range. This means that the ecosystem, or the habitat of the animal or plant, will be lost and will automatically lead to species becoming endangered, writes Atula Gupta

It is the year 2080 and the world is a place you hardly recognise. Planet earth has become a lot hotter and a lot less greener. Plants that were sprouting all around your neighbourhood are hardly visible. Common birds such as crows and cackles have faded away and can be barely heard or recognised. This grim picture of the future world is not just a fantastic projection of our planet, which is rapidly heating up, but the result of a recent research that suggests that half of common plants and one third of the animals that we easily spot today may become rare and endangered due to the effects of climate change.

Climate change or global warming is rapidly altering the world we live in. Recently it was found out that for the first time in human history, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has reached 400 parts per million. Manmade emissions of carbon dioxide have increased the atmospheric concentration of CO2 from around 270 to 280 ppm in the late 1700s to today’s record high level — a 43 per cent increase.

But while news of the earth’s rapidly rising temperature is not a new development, what a recent research conducted by scientists from the University of East Anglia has found is the way this rise can alter the climate range of about 50,000 species of plants and animals all over the world.

Global biodiversity loss

Researchers found that if nothing is done to counter the effects of global warming being felt at present, by the year 2080, half of the common plants on earth and one third of animals will lose their climate range. This means the ecosystem or the habitat of the animal or plant will be lost and this will automatically lead to species becoming endangered. They say the biggest threat will be to plant life, reptiles and amphibians.
The regions of the world which will lose most of their plants and animals are Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia. On the other hand, North Africa, Central Asia and South-eastern Europe will be the regions that will face a catastrophic loss of only plant life.

The study was led by Rachel Warren from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences. She says that while many experts today are concerned about rare and threatened species, this is the first time that a study shows the impact of climate change on life forms that we commonly see around us.

“This broader issue of potential range loss in widespread species is a serious concern as even small declines in these species can significantly disrupt ecosystems. Our research predicts that climate change will greatly reduce the diversity of even very common species found in most parts of the world. This loss of global-scale biodiversity would significantly impoverish the biosphere and the ecosystem services it provides,” says the researcher.
Thus, the scientist predicts a future where sighting of the common myna or plants like the bougainvillea or jasmine too might become rare.

From one to hundreds

It is not just the direct impact of climate change that is disconcerting. With rise in temperature, there are drastic weather changes, increase in the number of pests, and increase in diseases. It is these reasons too that may kill a number of plants and animals.
Because of the natural interdependence of all species, the loss of one can become life threatening for other beings as well. If half of the commonly known plant species are gone, that may lead to mass extinction of numerous insects, herbivores and carnivores.
The greatest impact will surely be on humans. “There will be a knock-on effect for humans because these species are important for factors such as water and air purification, flood control, nutrient cycling, and eco-tourism,” the researcher says.

No time to lose

Scientists, however, also found that if actions to mitigate the problems arising from climate change are taken now, plants and animals can get an extra lease of life. It has been predicted that compared to pre-industrial era, global temperatures could rise by four degrees celsius by 2100. The mitigation would first slow and then stop global
temperatures from rising by more than two degrees celsius which will give at least 60 per cent of these species time to adapt to changes and up their survival skills, with 40 years of added life.

As far as India is concerned, the effects of global warming are already apparent. In the east, Olive ridley turtles have a tougher task finding idle nesting sites for their eggs as beaches begin to shrink with rising sea level.

In the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, flowers that bloom in spring are budding in winter, confusing the bees and the insects that depend on the nectar and the shelter of these plants. In the Western Ghats, tree frogs have begun to predict monsoons at unusual times of the year.

Climate change is every nation’s problem today, and every individual’s. To cool the anger of this global monster created by us, it is pertinent that efforts too are put in by one and all. Only then can the vast majority of life forms on earth be saved.

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