Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Protected habitat across the globe serves as a refuge for many plants and animals, but new research suggests these safe havens could suffer a decline in biodiversity as a result of climate change.
Scientists at the University of Bayreuth use ten different climate models to predict the effects of climate change on the planet's 245,844 protected areas currently registered. Detailed climate forecasts allowed researchers to make especially accurate predictions for biodiversity inside 137,432 terrestrial nature reserves.
The data -- published this week in the journal Nature Communications -- suggests protected areas across the planet's temperate zones and in the Arctic will be especially vulnerable to disruption and biodiversity decline.
Protected areas in these more vulnerable regions tend to be low in elevation and relatively uniform in the mix of flora and fauna they house.
The latest simulations suggest many species will be forced to leave the confines of protected areas to seek more favorable climate conditions as the planet continues to warm. Unfortunately, migrants will find less and less suitable habitat outside the nature preserves.
Scientists hope their findings will help conservationists and policy makers identify the habitats and protected areas that will be most useful to protecting vulnerable species and maintaining biodiversity as the climate continues to change.
"With our calculations, we want to provide an impetus for systematically incorporating the consequences of climate change into the management of protected areas in the future," Samuel Hoffmann, a doctoral student at Bayreuth, said in a news release. "If climatic conditions change, this does not necessarily mean that existing protected areas have to be abandoned and other regions newly designated as protected areas. But at least in Europe, more intensive thought should be given than in the past to what the existing protected areas can and should do to preserve biodiversity into the future."
Authors of the new study suggest each protected area should be considered individually, as each will be impacted by climate change in different ways. However, many species would likely benefit from the strategic combination of protected areas.
"In principle, it is advantageous for the preservation of biodiversity if protected areas are very wide-ranging and at the same time comprise areas with very different living conditions," said Bayreuth professor Carl Beierkuhnlein. "Then species can react to climatic changes by changing their habitats without having to leave protected zones."