Classics: Extinction from Climate Change

22 03 2010

© A. Wong

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‘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.

CJA Bradshaw

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10 responses

22 01 2016
Getting your conservation science to the right people |

[…] to dwindle and go extinct (e.g., habitat loss, fragmentation, over-exploitation, genetic erosion, climate change, etc.), such that the ‘problem’ of biodiversity erosion is no longer a result of lack […]


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Ice Age? No. Abrupt warmings and hunting together polished off Holarctic megafauna |

[…] on this planet is sobering. Yes, we have long suspected that global climate disruption and the subsequent warming would be bad for wildlife, but now we have definitive, empirical proof that the synergy of human over-hunting and global […]


5 07 2012
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[…] extinctions: habitat loss/fragmentation, overkill, introduced species and extinction chains [with climate change and extinction synergies (2), the updated expression would be ‘evil sextet”]. However, one […]


18 05 2011
The evil sextet «

[…] A clear lesson from the past is that the faster and more severe the rate of global change, the more devastating the biological consequences, and as I’ve covered before here on in a separate Conservation Classic, this has seriously …. […]


18 05 2010
Watching the Deniers

Very interesting, and a change to fully understand the risks climate change poses. I’m still amazed when I hear sceptics say “Well, who cares about butterflies/frogs/lizards anyway?”

Apart from the loss of this natural diversity, I appreciate that this can have an enormous impact on the viability of ecosystems.

(Note: I’ll be back to this site frequently!)


19 05 2010

Thanks for the support.


28 03 2010
The New Global Warming, Landform Annihilation – Possibly GREEN

[…] Classics: Extinction from Climate Change « […]


22 03 2010
Paper on climate change and species distributions attains classic status

[…] Conservation.Bytes features a landmark 2004 paper on the projected effect of climate change on species distributions as its latest Conservation Classic. It also points to a 2008 summary of such studies over at BraveNewClimate. Regular readers will know that there have been studies which have focused specifically on the wild genepools of different crops. […]


23 03 2010

Thanks for the link.


22 03 2010
Special K (NJ)

If the public were to be informed daily of
the “past 24 hour” average of local daily average
local temperatures globally and by major climate
regions, it might come to appreciate the
concept of global warming. Which may or may
not be the same as, or related to, “climate change”
which tends to be a useful scapegoat for both
warming and cooling (as evidenced by the temperature
in, for example, Dallas, today).


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