Amidst the mildly annoying, yet functionally irrelevant sensationalism of climate change politics, conservation biologists are taking the problem seriously and attempting to predict (and prevent) extinctions arising from a rapidly heating planet (see BraveNewClimate.com‘s excellent summary here, as well as his general category of ‘ecological impacts of climate change‘).
This week’s Conservation Classic describes the first high-impact paper to signal just how bad it biodiversity could fare from climate change alone (ignoring, for the moment, synergies with other drivers of extinction).
From about the 1990s onward, conservation biologists had been accumulating a large number of case studies quantifying the extent to which species had shifted in their geographic ranges, phenology and behaviour in response to a rapidly warming planet (Parmesan & Yohe 2003).
However, it was not until Chris Thomas and colleagues’ 2004 Nature paper entitled ‘Extinction risk from climate change‘ that the magnitude of potential species extinctions arising from this stressor was projected at a global scale.
While simplified and controversial (e.g., see here, here, here and here), Thomas and colleague’s study has arguably catalysed the huge rise in climate change research in conservation biology over the last decade.
Indeed, climate change is now seen as one of the major potential drivers of mass extinction over the next few centuries. If you want a good down-to-Earth description of the biodiversity response to climate change, Tony Barnosky‘s book ‘Heatstroke‘ is a great place to start.