World-first global study links climate to impacts of habitat loss and fragmentation

In a world first, we have measured the relationship between current climate, climate change and habitat loss on plants and animals on a global scale.

Led by PhD candidate Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle, our results published recently in Global Change Biology indicate that areas with high temperatures and where average rainfall has decreased over time increase the chance of a species being negatively affected by habitat loss and fragmentation.

“Human population growth has caused significant habitat degradation across the globe, typically in support of agriculture and urban development,” Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle said.

“This alone has negatively impacted many species, but combined with rises in temperature and reduced rainfall as a result of a changing climate, there could be catastrophic results for some populations. Serious declines are already a reality for many species.”

The findings have important implications for the conservation of biodiversity under climate change.

“Conservation policy and management strategies that don’t take into account the combined effects of habitat loss and a changing climate may be inefficient and at worst ineffective” Mrs Mantyka-Pringle said.

The study suggests the negative effects of interactions between habitat loss and climate on higher order species, such as mammals, reptiles and amphibians are universal.

Mrs Mantyka-Pringle said drastic measures may be needed to preserve the world’s wildlife for future generations.

“In areas where the effects of climate change and it’s interactions with habitat loss are expected to be severe, our current management approaches may be inadequate,” she said.

“In these cases more proactive management strategies such as moving species, engineering habitat, and even abandoning our efforts to save certain species in one area in favour of other areas may be more effective.”

It is becoming increasingly apparent that ecosystems and species are not at risk from a single threat but rather a multitude of factors.

“Understanding the synergistic effects between climate change and other threatening processes has critical implications for our ability to support and incorporate climate change adaptation measures into policy development and management response”.

Article available at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02593.x/abstract

Mantyka-Pringle, C., Martin, T.G., Rhodes, J.R., 2012. Interactions between climate and habitat loss effects on biodiversity: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Global Change Biology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2011.02593.x.

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