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Climate change and species distributions
Date:8/3/2008

Scientists have long pointed to physical changes in the Earth and its atmosphere, such as melting polar ice caps, sea level rise and violent storms, as indicators of global climate change. But changes in climate can wreak havoc in more subtle ways, such as the loss of habitat for plant and animal species. In a series of talks at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) 93rd Annual Meeting, climate change scientists will discuss how temperature-induced habitat loss can spell disaster for many living things.

Climate models project that rising temperatures over time can lead to an increase in dry, desert-like conditions, which will affect not only the survivorship of particular species, but also the natural resources they have adapted to use in their natural environment. Species are thus forced to move elsewhere to find places to live and food to eat.

"Impacts on individual species indicate wider changes at the biome level that will potentially change conditions for many plant and animal species, in addition to ecosystem services to humans," says Patrick Gonzalez, a researcher at The Nature Conservancy and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

One species whose habitat may be in danger is the Canada lynx, which is listed as threatened in the United States. The feline's main prey, the snowshoe hare, lives in deep snow cover in boreal forest. Because they rely so heavily on hares for food, lynx are adapted to live in areas with snow cover at least four months out of the year. The cats are so specialized to life on snow that their paws are much wider than is required to support their weight; the large paws help them stalk hares over deep snow without falling in.

Gonzalez, who has worked with USDA Forest Service scientists to analyze lynx habitat, projects that a temperature increase of 2.5 to 4 degrees Celsius in the coming century across the U.S. and Canadathe range of warming under the scenarios rep
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Contact: Christine Buckley
christine@esa.org
202-833-8773
Ecological Society of America
Source:Eurekalert

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