More Warm-dwelling Animals and Plants as a Result of Climate Change




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Map of the 22 sampled communities of animals and plants. The colors represent the strength to which each community shifted towards warm (pink) or cold-dwelling species (blue).
More Warm-dwelling Animals and Plants as a Result of Climate Change
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Reinout Verbeke

Populations of warm-dwelling species have increased in Central Europe since 1980, particularly among terrestrial species, a new comprehensive study claims. It appears possible that rising temperatures due to climate change have had a widespread impact on population trends of animals in the past 30 years.

A team of scientists, with researchers from our Institute, have showed the impact of global warming on population trends among animals and plants. The study – one of the biggest on this subject to date – has been published in Nature Ecology & Evolution. The researchers gathered long-time data of 22 communities, from algae to mammals, in West and Central Europe. Each dataset comprised 9 to 130 different species for which population data were collected over a 12-34 year time span.

The analyses showed that warm-dwelling species have increased while temperatures have risen due to global warming. The most obvious increases occurred among warm-dwelling birds, butterflies, beetles, soil organisms and lichens. Also, some cool-dwelling terrestrial species have decreased.

Global Warming Puts Pressure

Since 1980, the average annual temperature in the study areas in Central Europe increased by approximately 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade. “This may sound harmless, but it has a serious impact on nature. Long-term temperature changes have long-term effects on the population size of plant and animal species. Nearly half of the populations of various species showed a significant increase or decrease since 1980. The direction of change of each species is influenced by whether it prefers warm or cool temperatures” says first author Dr. Diana Bowler of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.

If you compare the success of different species within terrestrial communities, warm-dwelling plant and animal species have increased. In freshwater and marine communities, the effects of the temperature increase apparently manifested themselves in more complex ways. But even here, the signs are visible: the populations of warm-dwelling marine fish in the North Sea are on the rise.

Big Scale Impact

According to the study climate change has a bigger impact on animal and plant communities  than other threats. Land use change still poses a serious threat to the populations and diversity of species. However, its effect tends to be of a more local nature, while climate change is geographically widespread.

For this study 27 institutions contributed to the huge dataset. Data about Belgian spider and beetle populations were collected by biologists of our Institute since 1989. “It is only through such large collaborations that we can give answers to some of the most important ecological questions of our time” Bowler adds.

Based on the press release 'More Warm-dwelling Animals and Plants as a Result of Climate Change' by Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre.

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