Nature already dramatically impacted by climate change, study reveals

November 10, 2016
Beverly James

Global climate change has already impacted every aspect of life on Earth, from genes to entire ecosystems, according to a new University of Florida study.

The paper appears today in the journal Science.

“We now have evidence that, with only a ~1 degree Celsius of warming globally, major impacts are already being felt in natural systems,” said study lead author Brett Scheffers, an assistant professor in the department of wildlife, ecology and conservation in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “Genes are changing, species’ physiology and physical features such as body size are changing, species are shifting their ranges and we see clear signs of entire ecosystems under stress, all in response to changes in climate on land and in the ocean.”

During this research, Scheffers, a conservation ecologist, collaborated with a team of researchers from 10 countries, spread across the globe. They discovered that more than 80 percent of ecological processes that form the foundation for healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems already show signs of responses to climate change.

 “Some people didn’t expect this level of change for decades” said co-author James Watson, of the University of Queensland in Australia. “The impacts of climate change are being felt with no ecosystem on Earth being spared.“

Many of the impacts on species and ecosystems affect people, according to the authors, with consequences ranging from increased pests and disease outbreaks, unpredictable changes in fisheries, and decreasing agriculture yields. But research on these impacts also leads to hope.

“Many of the responses we are observing today in nature can help us determine how to fix the mounting issues that people face under changing climate conditions,” Scheffers said. “For example, by understanding the adaptive capacity in nature, we can apply these same principles to our crops, livestock and aquacultural species.”

“Current global climate change agreements aim to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” said Wendy Foden, co-author and chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group. “We’re showing that there are already broad and serious impacts from climate change right across biological systems.“

Paper

The broad footprint of climate change from genes to biomes to people by Brett R. Scheffers et al. is published in Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf7671

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