An international team of 22 biologists have called on their colleagues to get cracking and collect certain types of data to help predict how the planet’s estimated 8.7 million species will handle a warmer future.
“Our biggest challenge is pinpointing which species to concentrate on and which regions we need to allocate resources,” says Associate Professor Mark Urban from the University of Connecticut, lead author of the call-to-arms published this week in the leading journal Science.
“We are at a triage stage at this point. We have limited resources and patients lined up at the door.”
Fortunately, biologists are working on complex mathematical models that are increasingly accurate in forecasting what will happen to species as the climate changes. But the “biggest obstacle” in now using these models is a lack of real life data to inform calculations, write the article’s authors.
Read more about the research on Scimex.org.
In their Science article the researchers outline a number of ways to “fill this growing gap between model sophistication and information to predict and prevent the most damaging aspects of climate change for life on Earth.”
In particular, they identify six key areas where biological information will significantly improve prediction outcomes for individual species, including : physiology, demography, species interactions, evolutionary potential, dispersal and responses to environmental variation.
Obtaining this information will not only help the scientific community better identify the most at-risk populations and ecosystems, the scientists say, it will also allow for a more targeted distribution of resources as global temperatures continue to rise at a record rate.
“We need to pull on our boots, grab our binoculars, and go back into the field to gather these key bits of information if we are going to make realistic predictions,” says Associate Professor Urban.
New Zealand biologists on board
“New Zealand’s strong foundation in ecological research will help,” says study co-author Dr William Godsoe, a Lincoln University lecturer and investigator in the Bio-Protection Research Centre.
“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.”
Tuatara were one species where the effects of climate change were already being documented, Dr Godsoe said in an interview with RNZ .
“If it’s really warm out, tuataras produce more males and in effect that means they’re wasting resources that could be used to produce females that are more useful for producing more offspring in the next generation.”
Ongoing monitoring needed
The article published in Science comes not long after another study, published in Austral Ecology, highlighted that Southern Hemisphere countries in particular need to improve their long term monitoring of climate sensitive species.
“Few countries anywhere in the world have comprehensive long-term biodiversity data to support the development of detailed climatic change adaptation programmes,”the authors wrote, “but the lack of data and capacity to interpret it in policy, planning and management contexts is acute in much of the south.”
They warn that even relatively well-resourced countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile and South Africa are poor in long time series data compared with countries in Europe, Asia and North America.
Citizen science will be absolutely critical in collecting the extensive data needed to track how species are changing their habitat and life-cycles in response to climate change, said the authors.
Featured image: Flickr / _somaholiday