Climate change risks extinction of endemic species

Wednesday, 23 March, 2022

Climate change will negatively impact 273 biodiversity-rich areas of exceptional biodiversity with endemic species facing more adverse impacts, according to a new study by a global team of experts including Tyndall Centre’s Jeff Price and Rhosanna Jenkins.

The study, which performed an extensive literature review on papers that investigated the impacts of climate change on biodiversity in global priority conservation areas, found that there is a high risk of extinction among endemic species as climate change worsens. Endemic species are plants and animals that exist in only one geographical region, making them unique to a certain body of water or land.

More than 60% of tropical terrestrial endemic species were projected to be at risk of extinction due to climate change alone. Endemic species from islands and mountain regions had extremely high extinction risk, 100% and 84% of species, respectively.

Fifty four percent of marine endemic species face extinction. Marine species at risk of extinction were more than twice as high for endemics (54%) than for native species (26%).

“Endemic species are more restricted with their range, which means that they are often at greater risk of extinction from local impacts, including habitat loss and interactions with introduced species; these effects are being exacerbated by changes in climate,” said Jeff Price.

Biodiversity is unevenly distributed across the globe, 273 areas are considered ‘rich-spots’ with irreplaceable land, freshwater, and marine areas with notable endemism. These areas, which include the Brazilian Atlantic Forest, Cape Floristic Province, Mesoamerica, Maputaland-Pondoland-Albany, and the Mediterranean Sea, will experience severe climate change impacts in the future. 

Endemic species in South America, Africa, and Oceania will be impacted the most. Islands of the Caribbean,  Madagascar, Indian Ocean Islands, Philippines, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka, could lose all their endemic plants due to climate change by 2050, and African mountain rich-spots were also at risk of endemic plant loss.

The intensity and speed at which the climate is changing can hinder the ability of species to adapt to such change. There are conservation practices that can help protect biodiversity amidst the changing climate. These include implementing globally-networked fully-protected areas on land and sea; sustainable land and sea-use practices; extending protected areas to include such biodiversity rich-spots; managing the intensity of land and sea-use in their surroundings, and ending habitat degradation.

However, conservation efforts are not enough, reducing global emissions must also be a priority. “Our results show that even with successful conservation efforts, there remains an extinction risk for 20% and 32% of the terrestrial and marine endemics in biodiversity rich-spots with a global climate of more than 3C warming. Therefore, alongside enhanced conservation actions, climate change mitigation plays a crucial role in biodiversity conservation, and reduces risks to biodiversity,” said Jeff.

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