At a time when global climate change is among the most important of issues for humankind to address, there remains significant uncertainty about how changes in the climate system will impact upon the world’s species and ecosystems, not to mention how societies and decision-makers might go about reducing these impacts. In response to this, the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) has recently formed a new group of international experts who will focus on topics surrounding climate change impacts on biodiversity.
“The formation of the Climate Change Specialist Group marks an important step towards advancing our combined knowledge of how nature will be affected by climate change” says Jamie Carr, Leader of the IUCN Species Programme’s Climate Change Unit. “Currently, there is a lot of great science being conducted out there, but methods and results can often be complex and sometimes conflicting, which can leave those needing to act upon such findings at a bit of a loss. Addressing such issues is among the aims of the group”.
The group itself comprises esteemed experts in the field from around the world, and individually they have already made some important, and at times surprising, findings. A recent study led by the group member Wendy Foden suggested that up to 9% of all bird species, 15% of all amphibian species, and 9% of coral species are both highly vulnerable to climate change and are already at risk of extinction from other non-climatic threats. Up to 41%, 29% and 22% of the same groups are considered vulnerable to climate change impacts, but are currently not threatened by other factors. This highlights the need to consider the impacts of climate change both alone and in combination with other factors. It also demonstrates how species that are not currently conservation priorities may also require attention in the near future.
Another recent study, co-authored by SSC member Dr. Piero Genovesi and colleagues, suggests that climate change will increase the effects of invasions by non-native species in some areas of the world, such as Europe, Oceania and North America. While the impacts of invasive species is a reasonably well-researched topic, the interacting effect of climate change has been studied to a much lesser degree. “Prompt responses to the introduction of invasive alien species and control of invasions should be a key component of the global efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change” said Dr. Piero Genovesi, Chair of the IUCN SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.
A study led by the Co-Chair of the Climate Change Specialist Group, Dr. James Watson, has developed a novel means to identify areas that are most vulnerable to climate change, to identify and prioritize responses. Using information on current ecosystem ‘intactness’ and ecosystem ‘stability’ under predicted future climate change, Dr. Watson and colleagues identified southern and south-eastern Asia, western and central Europe, eastern South America, and southern Australia as among the most vulnerable regions.
“The analysis and map in this study is a means of bringing clarity to complicated decisions on where limited resources will do the most good” said Dr. Watson. “Climate change is going to impact ecosystems both directly and indirectly in a variety of ways, and the limited funds available to address these issues means that we need to be clever in our investments in adaptation strategies around the world. Bringing together the wealth of knowledge on climate change impacts on biodiversity, and then using this to identify responses, is a key challenge of the Climate Change Specialist Group, and one that I am proud to be involved in.”