Fingerprints of Global Warming on Wild Animals and Plants

Introduction:

Our understanding of global warming is gradually improving. After careful study the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a consortium of over 2,000 scientists, has concluded that the average temperature of the world has gone up one degree Fahrenheit in the last 100 years and it is expected to increase rapidly. This warming is greater in higher latitudes. Alaska and northern Canada have seen average temperatures increase five degrees.

As Paul Ehrlich pointed out in last month's ER, people rely on ecosystem services for their health and well being. Ecosystems provide us with clean air and water, flood and climate control, crop pollination and pest control — the list is a long one.

Ecosystems are flexible and have changed in the past but climate hasn't changed this fast since the last Ice Age, and humans have fragmented the landscape. Elk have to cross farms, fences and roads; salmon have to pass dams; migratory birds have to contend with cities and airports. Many species will adapt to the new order, but many will not.

In the January 2003 Nature two separate groups of scientists reported that there is now credible evidence that plants and animals have been responding to global warming1,2. We discussed this with one of the authors, Terry Root.

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