Climate change pushing species to move

Aug. 18, 2011 at 8:42 PM
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YORK, England, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- British researchers say animal species are reacting to global warming by moving toward the poles or to higher altitudes at increasing rates of speed.

Scientists at the University of York estimate that, on average, species are moving to higher latitudes at almost 11 miles per decade, and are moving to higher, cooler elevations at 40 feet per decade.

"These changes are equivalent to animals and plants shifting away from the Equator at around 20 cm (8 inches) per hour, for every hour of the day, for every day of the year," York conservation biology Professor Chris Thomas said. "This has been going on for the last 40 years and is set to continue for at least the rest of this century."

Species have moved furthest in regions where the climate has warmed the most, unambiguously linking the changes in where species live to climate warming during last 40 years, a university release said Thursday.

"Our analysis shows that rates of response to climate change are two or three times faster than previously realized," York ecology Professor Jane Hill said.

Climate change is affecting different species in different ways, the researchers said.

"Realization of how fast species are moving because of climate change indicates that many species may indeed be heading rapidly towards extinction, where climatic conditions are deteriorating," Thomas said. "On the other hand, other species are moving to new areas where the climate has become suitable; so there will be some winners as well as many losers."

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