While humans struggle over what to do about climate change, many other species already have a solution. A new study shows that animals, plants, and insects are responding quickly to changing temperatures, moving their habitats to cooler climates so swiftly that they've surprised scientists.
As our planet becomes a less habitable place, some creatures are emerging as survivors even as their cohorts perish due to habitat loss.
Among the survivors are the comma butterfly, which the British researchers found had moved 220 kilometers north over the past 40 years, from central England to Edinburgh. Cetti's warbler, a small bird native to England, had moved 150 kilometers north. And these are just two of the 2,000 animal and plant species that the team analyzed — some of whose numbers were diminishing because they couldn't move their homes for various reasons, and some of whom had climbed into mountains or moved north to escape elevated temperatures.
According to a release from Science, where the study was published last week, "the research team estimated that, on average, species have moved to higher elevations at 12.2 metres per decade and, more dramatically, to higher latitudes at 17.6 kilometres per decade."
Conservation biologist and project lead Chris Thomas said:
These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the Equator at around 20 cm per hour, for every hour of the day, for every day of the year. This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of this century.
Added ecologist and co-author Jane Hill:
We have taken the published literature and analysed it to detect what the overall pattern of change is, something that is not possible from an individual study. It's a summary of the state of world knowledge about how the ranges of species are responding to climate change. Our analysis shows that rates of response to climate change are two or three times faster than previously realised.
Does this mean that we're not going to see a mass extinction of the world's species from climate change? No. But what it does reveal is a pattern in how species respond when the planet heats up. The researchers point out that the most vulnerable species are ones who simply can't move because they require a very specialized niche or environment to survive. Unfortunately, many species are in this category.
This study also reveals that the natural world has been aware of the effects of global warming for at least forty years, and some species are adapting to it as best they can.
Read the full scientific paper via Science