Report

Accelerating extinction risk from climate change

Science  01 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6234, pp. 571-573
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa4984

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Predicting extinction in a changing world

There is great interest in understanding how species might respond to our changing climate, but predictions have varied greatly. Urban looked at over 130 studies to identify the level of risk that climate change poses to species and the specific traits and characteristics that contribute to risk (see the Perspective by Hille Ris Lambers). If climate changes proceed as expected, one in six species could face extinction. Several regions, including South America, Australia, and New Zealand, face the greatest risk. Understanding these patterns will help us to prepare for, and hopefully prevent, climate-related loss of biodiversity.

Science, this issue p. 571; see also p. 501

Abstract

Current predictions of extinction risks from climate change vary widely depending on the specific assumptions and geographic and taxonomic focus of each study. I synthesized published studies in order to estimate a global mean extinction rate and determine which factors contribute the greatest uncertainty to climate change–induced extinction risks. Results suggest that extinction risks will accelerate with future global temperatures, threatening up to one in six species under current policies. Extinction risks were highest in South America, Australia, and New Zealand, and risks did not vary by taxonomic group. Realistic assumptions about extinction debt and dispersal capacity substantially increased extinction risks. We urgently need to adopt strategies that limit further climate change if we are to avoid an acceleration of global extinctions.

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