First test of predictions of climate change impacts on biodiversity

A new study published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography represents the first real test of the performance of models used to forecast how species will change their geographic ranges in response to the Earth's changing climate

Despite the weight of scientific evidence that the Earth is warming and that this is already affecting wildlife, many people - and a few scientists - still refuse to believe it is actually happening. These climate change skeptics usually justify their position by insisting that scientists' forecasts are just too inaccurate. Of course, we can never really know what the future will bring, but in a fascinating new study published this week in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography a group of Oxford Scientists have tested the ability of environmental science to predict the future by going back to the past.

Dr Miguel Arajo and his colleagues from Oxford University's Biodiversity Research Group imagined they were back in the 70's and were trying to predict the geographic ranges of British birds in 1991 using 16 commonly used climate-envelope models and the real data on how the climate had changed during this period.

Climate envelope model forecasts typically involve a three-step process: First, for each species, mathematical models are developed to link the species to its present climate envelope (actual environmental conditions where the species is found). Second, a climate change scenario for some point in the future, typically 2020 or 2050, is applied to generate a new potential range distribution for the species. Third, this new projected distribution is compared to the present distribution, allowing the scientists to forecast whether the species distribution, will grow, or shrink, or even become extinct.

Unlike previous studies that have provided untestable forecasts of range changes in response to future climate change, the Oxford study was able to directly compare the predicted range changes w

Contact: Emily Davis
Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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