Evolution Losing Race with Climate Change, Species May Not be Able to Adapt
July 10, 2013 2:22 PM
Certain species need more time to adapt to drastic temperature changes, such as the climate change over the next 100 years
is losing in the race against climate change, which could lead to the extinction of certain species.
University of Arizona researchers -- led by John J. Wiens, a professor in UA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Science -- have found that climate change is outpacing evolution, and that some species may not be able to adapt to the warming of certain locations over the next century.
In fact, the study discovered that many vertebrate species -- ranging from mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians -- adapt to different climates at a rate of only 1 degree Celsius per million years. The problem is that global temperatures are going to increase by about 4 degrees by 2100, meaning that evolution is too slow to keep pace with climate change -- and species would have to evolve about 10,000 times faster than they have in the past to adapt to the expected climate change over the next century.
The team figured this out by studying phylogenies, which are evolutionary family trees. They studied 17 families over major groups of terrestrial vertebrates, and placed them alongside climatic "niche" data of each species. With climatic data like temperature highs/lows, annual precipitation and annual mean temperature, the team estimated how fast climatic niches evolve with the different species.
"Basically, we figured out how much species changed in their climatic niche on a given branch, and if we know how old a species is, we can estimate how quickly the climatic niche changes over time," said Wiens. "For most sister species, we found that they evolved to live in habitats with an
average temperature difference
of only about 1 or 2 degrees Celsius over the course of one to a few million years.
"We then compared the rates of change over time in the past to projections for what climatic conditions are going to be like in 2100 and looked at how different these rates are. If the rates were similar, it would suggest there is a potential for species to evolve quickly enough to be able to survive, but in most cases, we found those rates to be different by about 10,000-fold or more."
So what are species to do if they can't adapt fast enough? The team said some could move to other locations that are cooler, but warned that this isn't an option for all species. Hence, some could become endangered or even extinct by 2100.
This study was published in
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