Limiting global warming this century to just 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures would be a boon to the planet’s biodiversity. This lower warming threshold, compared with warming of 2 degrees C, will preserve much larger swaths of the geographic ranges of tens of thousands of land-based species of plants, vertebrates and insects living on the planet, a new study suggests.
Using a combination of climate simulations and data on the distribution of more than 115,000 terrestrial species worldwide, scientists saw distinct differences in future biodiversity depending on how much warming the planet experiences. At 2 degrees C of warming by 2100, 18 percent of insect species, 16 percent of plant species and 8 percent of vertebrate species saw their geographic ranges shrink by more than half. Under 1.5 degrees C of warming, those numbers fell to 6 percent of insects, 8 percent of plants and 4 percent of vertebrates, the team reports in the May 18 Science.
“Losing half the range is a pretty big impact, because that means [the organisms] stop contributing as much to the ecosystem,” says study coauthor Rachel Warren, an environmental scientist at the University of East Anglia in Britain. These ecosystem contributions include air and water purification, plant pollination and nutrient cycling.
Until a few years ago, 2 degrees was the magic number. If the planet’s nations could limit global warming to just 2 degrees C , scientists thought, the world would be relatively “safe” — with little change to sea levels, species habitats or climate conditions. But over time, concerns began to arise that that target would still incur too great a cost, Warren says.
Many small island nations and less-developed countries, which are likely to be hit hardest by the effects of climate…
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