Climatic havens for plants, wildlife may protect species from extinction if warming is limited

East Lansing, Michelle. Michigan and two other US states are protecting climatic habitats for plants and wildlife at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, according to new research from MSU scientists.

Alaska and California join the Great Lakes State as likely the best protectors of green space to support biodiversity in the face of climate change, a new study shows. The study determined that less than 15% of these climatic haven habitats are protected across the continent.

Researchers at Michigan State University and the National Audubon Society recently identified the best places across North America for conserving biodiversity, which means saving as many plant and animal species as possible from climate-related extinction. They have learned that the number of salvageable organisms is expected to decline as global warming accelerates.

studying Show fewer plant and animal extinctions would occur if climate change were limited to a 2°C rise in global temperatures because as much “refugee” areas would still be available.

The study showed that at 2 degrees of warming in the United States, 51% of the shelter areas will still exist. But that number drops to 39% at 3 degrees of warming, at which point such climatic havens for plants and wildlife can only be found at higher latitudes and altitudes. The changes are expected to be too rapid for most land animals to adapt.

Climate change refuges were defined in the study as undeveloped places suitable to support at least 75% of existing biodiversity under a warming climate. The study focused on seven groups: amphibians, birds, fungi, invertebrates, mammals, plants, and reptiles.

Scientists learned that Michigan and the Great Lakes region may support certain species for longer than other places experiencing higher global temperatures.

“We have some shelters that still exist at 2 degrees and 3 degrees for birds in the Great Lakes region. Sarah Saunders, senior director of quantitative science at Audubon and first author of the new research, said:

“Birds and mammals do well. Amphibians also have some good shelters available down to -3°.”

However, Saunders said there may be a greater complexity in how the food web responds under different degrees of global warming. She said bottom-up cascading effects may accompany the loss of lower trophic organisms.

Scientists predict that such interrelated environmental losses can be projected to escalate between two and three degree temperature increases – a predicted tipping point for plant and wildlife extinctions.

“I was surprised by the huge difference between 2 and 3 degrees, and I think that’s where the wake-up call comes in,” said Saunders.

The researchers stressed that despite the shocking threat of biodiversity loss as climate change accelerates, their work shows that there are still many opportunities to strategically conserve these sanctuaries, or climatic havens, for plants and wildlife. They said the data can help prioritize investment in conservation efforts.

“We don’t want to be doomsday about it all, either. There are really amazing opportunities now to try and strengthen our protection for these shelters. It’s exciting that Michigan has so many of those shelters,” said Maria Meek, assistant professor of biology at MSU and one of the study’s authors. the opportunity.

Meek said it’s very important to match the areas of protected reserves and shelters identified in the study.

Less than 15% of refuges across North America are currently protected to conserve biodiversity. Mexico held the largest number of shelters at 5-14%, followed by Canada at 4-10%. According to the study, the United States protected between 2-6% of identified shelters.

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