Extinction risk from global warming

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The extinction risk of global warming is the risk of species becoming extinct due to the effects of global warming. This may be Earth's sixth major extinction, often called the Anthropocene or Holocene extinction. [1]

In biology, a species ( ) is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined. While these definitions may seem adequate, when looked at more closely they represent problematic species concepts. For example, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, and in a ring species. Also, among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies.

Extinction Termination of a taxon by the death of the last member

In biology, extinction is the termination of an organism or of a group of organisms (taxon), usually a species. The moment of extinction is generally considered to be the death of the last individual of the species, although the capacity to breed and recover may have been lost before this point. Because a species' potential range may be very large, determining this moment is difficult, and is usually done retrospectively. This difficulty leads to phenomena such as Lazarus taxa, where a species presumed extinct abruptly "reappears" after a period of apparent absence.

Effects of global warming

The effects of global warming are the environmental and social changes caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. There is a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, and that human activities are the primary driver. Many impacts of climate change have already been observed, including glacier retreat, changes in the timing of seasonal events, and changes in agricultural productivity. Anthropogenic forcing has likely contributed to some of the observed changes, including sea level rise, changes in climate extremes, declines in Arctic sea ice extent and glacier retreat.


Latest consensus on projections

The scientific consensus in the 2014 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report is that:

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the fifth in a series of such reports. The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information concerning climate change, its potential effects and options for adaptation and mitigation.

A large fraction of both terrestrial and freshwater species faces increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century, especially as climate change interacts with other stressors, such as habitat modification, over-exploitation, pollution, and invasive species (high confidence). Extinction risk is increased under all RCP scenarios, with risk increasing with both magnitude and rate of climate change. Many species will be unable to track suitable climates under mid- and high-range rates of climate change (i.e., RCP4.5, 6.0, and 8.5) during the 21st century (medium confidence). Lower rates of change (i.e., RCP2.6) will pose fewer problems.

IPCC, 2014


Extinction risks reported


In one study published in Nature in 2004, between 15 and 37% of 1103 endemic or near-endemic known plant and animal species will be "committed to extinction" by 2050. [3] More properly, changes in habitat by 2050 will put them outside the survival range for the inhabitants, thus committing the species to extinction.

<i>Nature</i> (journal) British multidisciplinary scientific journal

Nature is a British multidisciplinary scientific journal, first published on 4 November 1869. It is one of the most recognizable scientific journals in the world, and was ranked the world's most cited scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports and is ascribed an impact factor of 40.137, making it one of the world's top academic journals. It is one of the few remaining academic journals that publishes original research across a wide range of scientific fields.

Other researchers, such as Thuiller et al., [4] Araújo et al., [5] Person et al., [6] Buckley and Roughgarden, [7] and Harte et al. [8] have raised concern regarding uncertainty in Thomas et al.'s projections; some of these studies believe it is an overestimate, others believe the risk could be greater. Thomas et al. replied in Nature [9] addressing criticisms and concluding "Although further investigation is needed into each of these areas, it is unlikely to result in substantially reduced estimates of extinction. Anthropogenic climate change seems set to generate very large numbers of species-level extinctions." On the other hand, Daniel Botkin et al. state "... global estimates of extinctions due to climate change (Thomas et al. 2004) may have greatly overestimated the probability of extinction..." [10]

Joan Roughgarden is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist. She is well known for her theistic evolutionism and critical studies on Charles Darwin's theory of sexual selection.

Human impact on the environment human impacts on environment

Human impact on the environment or anthropogenic impact on the environment includes changes to biophysical environments and ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources caused directly or indirectly by humans, including global warming, environmental degradation, mass extinction and biodiversity loss, ecological crisis, and ecological collapse. Modifying the environment to fit the needs of society is causing severe effects, which become worse as the problem of human overpopulation continues. Some human activities that cause damage to the environment on a global scale include human reproduction, overconsumption, overexploitation, pollution, and deforestation, to name but a few. Some of the problems, including global warming and biodiversity loss pose an existential risk to the human race, and overpopulation causes those problems.

Mechanistic studies are documenting extinctions due to recent climate change: McLaughlin et al. documented two populations of Bay checkerspot butterfly being threatened by precipitation change. [11] Parmesan states, "Few studies have been conducted at a scale that encompasses an entire species" [12] and McLaughlin et al. agreed "few mechanistic studies have linked extinctions to recent climate change." [11]

Climate change Change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns for an extended period

Climate change occurs when changes in Earth's climate system result in new weather patterns that last for at least a few decades, and maybe for millions of years. The climate system is comprised of five interacting parts, the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water), cryosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere. The climate system receives nearly all of its energy from the sun, with a relatively tiny amount from earth's interior. The climate system also gives off energy to outer space. The balance of incoming and outgoing energy, and the passage of the energy through the climate system, determines Earth's energy budget. When the incoming energy is greater than the outgoing energy, earth's energy budget is positive and the climate system is warming. If more energy goes out, the energy budget is negative and earth experiences cooling.

Bay checkerspot butterfly

The Bay checkerspot is a butterfly endemic to the San Francisco Bay region of the U.S. state of California. It is a federally threatened species, as a subspecies of Euphydryas editha.


In 2008, the white lemuroid possum was reported to be the first known mammal species to be driven extinct by man-made global warming. However, these reports were based on a misunderstanding. One population of these possums in the mountain forests of northern Queensland is severely threatened by climate change as the animals cannot survive extended temperatures over 30 °C. However, another population 100 kilometres south remains in good health. [13]

Mammal class of tetrapods

Mammals are vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia, and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex, fur or hair, and three middle ear bones. These characteristics distinguish them from reptiles and birds, from which they diverged in the late Triassic, 201–227 million years ago. There are around 5,450 species of mammals. The largest orders are the rodents, bats and Soricomorpha. The next three are the Primates, the Cetartiodactyla, and the Carnivora.

Global warming rise in the average temperature of the Earths climate system and its related effects

Global warming is a long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system, an aspect of climate change shown by temperature measurements and by multiple effects of the warming. Though earlier geological periods also experienced episodes of warming, the term commonly refers to the observed and continuing increase in average air and ocean temperatures since 1900 caused mainly by emissions of greenhouse gasses in the modern industrial economy. In the modern context the terms global warming and climate change are commonly used interchangeably, but climate change includes both global warming and its effects, such as changes to precipitation and impacts that differ by region. Many of the observed warming changes since the 1950s are unprecedented in the instrumental temperature record, and in historical and paleoclimate proxy records of climate change over thousands to millions of years.

North Queensland Region in Queensland, Australia

North Queensland or the Northern Region is the northern part of the Australian state of Queensland that lies just south of Far North Queensland. Queensland is a massive state, larger than many countries, and the tropical northern part of it has been historically remote and undeveloped, resulting in a distinctive regional character and identity.


According to research published in the January 4, 2012 Proceedings of the Royal Society B current climate models may be flawed because they overlook two important factors: the differences in how quickly species relocate and competition among species. According to the researchers, led by Mark C. Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, diversity decreased when they took these factors into account, and that new communities of organisms, which do not exist today, emerged. As a result the rate of extinctions may be higher than previously projected. [14]


According to research published in the 30 May 2014 issue of Science, most known species have small ranges, and the numbers of small-ranged species are increasing quickly. They are geographically concentrated and are disproportionately likely to be threatened or already extinct. According to the research, current rates of extinction are three orders of magnitude higher than the background extinction rate, and future rates, which depend on many factors, are poised to increase. Although there has been rapid progress in developing protected areas, such efforts are not ecologically representative, nor do they optimally protect biodiversity. In the researchers' view, human activity tends to destroy critical habitats where species live, warms the planet, and tends to move species around the planet to places where they don’t belong and where they can come into conflict with human needs (e.g. causing species to become pests). [15] [16]


In 2016 the Bramble Cay melomys, which lived on a Great Barrier Reef island, was reported to probably be the first mammal to become extinct because of sea level rises due to human-made climate change. [17]

Extinction risks of the Adelie penguin are being reported because of global warming. The Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) species is declining and data analysis done on the breeding colonies is used to estimate and project future habitat and population sustainability in relation to warming sea temperatures. By 2060, one-third of the observed Adelie penguin colony along the West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) will be in decline. The Adelie penguins are a circumpolar species, used to the ranges of Antarctic climate, and experiencing population decline. Climate model projections predict sanctuary for the species past 2099. The observed population is similarly proportional to the species-wide population (one-third of the observed population is equal to 20% of the species-wide population). [18]

Sex ratios for sea turtles in the Caribbean are being affected because of global warming. Environmental data was collected from the annual rainfall and tide temperatures over the course of 200 years and showed an increase air temperature (mean of 31.0 degree Celsius). This data was used to relate the decline of the sex ratios of sea turtles in the North East Caribbean and climate change. The species of sea turtles include the Dermochelys coriacea, Chelonia myads , and Eretmochelys imbricata. Extinction is a risk for these species as the sex ratio is being afflicted causing a higher female to male ratio. Projections estimate the declining rate of male Chelonia myads as 2.4% hatchlings being male by 2030 and 0.4% by 2090. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

Holocene extinction Extinction event during the current Holocene geological epoch

The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is a current event, and is one of the most significant extinction events in the history of the Earth. This ongoing extinction of species coincides with the present Holocene epoch, and is a result of human activity. This large number of extinctions spans numerous families of plants and animals, including mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and arthropods. With widespread degradation of highly biodiverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforests, as well as other areas, the vast majority of these extinctions are thought to be undocumented, as the species are undiscovered at the time of their extinction, or no one has yet discovered their extinction. The current rate of extinction of species is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural background rates. The Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published by IPBES in 2019 posits that roughly one million species of plants and animals face extinction caused by anthropogenic impacts.

Biodiversity Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is typically a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near the equator, which is the result of the warm climate and high primary productivity. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth, and is richest in the tropics. These tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10 percent of earth's surface, and contain about 90 percent of the world's species. Marine biodiversity is usually highest along coasts in the Western Pacific, where sea surface temperature is highest, and in the mid-latitudinal band in all oceans. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity. Biodiversity generally tends to cluster in hotspots, and has been increasing through time, but will be likely to slow in the future.

Conservation biology the study of threats to biological diversity

Conservation biology is the management of nature and of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction and the erosion of biotic interactions. It is an interdisciplinary subject drawing on natural and social sciences, and the practice of natural resource management.

Decline in amphibian populations ongoing mass extinction of amphibian species worldwide

The decline in amphibian populations is an ongoing mass extinction of amphibian species worldwide. Since the 1980s, decreases in amphibian populations, including population crashes and mass localized extinctions, have been observed in locations all over the world. These declines are known as one of the most critical threats to global biodiversity, and several causes are believed to be involved, including disease, habitat destruction and modification, exploitation, pollution, pesticide use, introduced species, and ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B). However, many of the causes of amphibian declines are still poorly understood, and the topic is currently a subject of much ongoing research. Calculations based on extinction rates suggest that the current extinction rate of amphibians could be 211 times greater than the background extinction rate and the estimate goes up to 25,000–45,000 times if endangered species are also included in the computation.

Climate sensitivity is the globally averaged temperature change in response to changes in radiative forcing, which can occur, for instance, due to increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO
). Although the term climate sensitivity is usually used in the context of radiative forcing by CO2, it is thought of as a general property of the climate system: the change in surface air temperature following a unit change in radiative forcing, and the climate sensitivity parameter is therefore expressed in units of °C/(W/m2). For this to be useful, the measure must be independent of the nature of the forcing (e.g. from greenhouse gases or solar variation); which is true approximately. When climate sensitivity is expressed for a doubling of CO2, its units are degrees Celsius (°C).

Species richness, or biodiversity, increases from the poles to the tropics for a wide variety of terrestrial and marine organisms, often referred to as the latitudinal diversity gradient (LDG). The LDG is one of the most widely recognized patterns in ecology. The LDG has been observed to varying degrees in Earth's past. A parallel trend has been found with elevation, though this is less well-studied

The Red List Index (RLI), based on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, is an indicator of the changing state of global biodiversity. It defines the conservation status of major species groups, and measures trends in extinction risk over time. By conducting conservation assessments at regular intervals, changes in the threat status of species in a taxonomic group can be used to monitor trends in extinction risk. RLIs have been calculated for birds and amphibians, using changes in threat status for species in each of the groups.

Lee Hannah is a conservation ecologist and a Senior Researcher in Climate Change Biology at Conservation International. Hannah is one of many authors who published an article predicting that between 15% and 37% of species are at risk of extinction due to climate change caused by human greenhouse gas emissions.

Ecological forecasting uses knowledge of physics, ecology and physiology to predict how ecological populations, communities, or ecosystems will change in the future in response to environmental factors such as climate change. The ultimate goal of the approach is to provide people such as resource managers and designers of marine reserves with information that they can then use to respond, in advance, to future changes, a form of adaptation to global warming.

Effects of climate change on plant biodiversity

Environmental conditions play a key role in defining the function and distribution of plants, in combination with other factors. Changes in long term environmental conditions that can be collectively coined climate change are known to have had enormous impacts on current plant diversity patterns; further impacts are expected in the future. It is predicted that climate change will remain one of the major drivers of biodiversity patterns in the future. Human actions are currently triggering the sixth major mass extinction our Earth has seen, changing the distribution and abundance of many plants.

Golden toad extinct toad

The golden toad was a small true toad that was once abundant in a small, high-altitude region of about 4 square kilometres (1.5 sq mi) in an area north of the city of Monteverde, Costa Rica. It was endemic to elfin cloud forest. Also called the Monte Verde toad, Alajuela toad and orange toad, it is commonly considered the "poster child" for the amphibian decline crisis. This toad was first described in 1966 by herpetologist Jay Savage. The last sighting of a single male golden toad was on 15 May 1989, and it has since been classified as extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The Future of Marine Animal Populations (FMAP) project was one of the core projects of the international Census of Marine Life (2000–2010). FMAP's mission was to describe and synthesize globally changing patterns of species abundance, distribution, and diversity, and to model the effects of fishing, climate change and other key variables on those patterns. This work was done across ocean realms and with an emphasis on understanding past changes and predicting future scenarios.

Climate change, industry and society

This article is about climate change, industry and society.

Climate change and ecosystems

This article is about climate change and ecosystems. Future climate change is expected to affect particular ecosystems, including tundra, mangroves, coral reefs, and caves.

Climate change has had a significant direct effect on terrestrial animals, by being a major driver of the processes of speciation and extinction. The best known example of this is the Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse which occurred 350 million years ago. This event decimated amphibian populations and spurred on the evolution of reptiles.

Assisted colonization is the act of moving plants or animals to a different habitat. The destination habitat may or may not have once previously held the species; the only requirement is the destination habitat must provide the bioclimatic requirements to support the species. The goal of assisted colonization is to remove the species from a threatening environment and give them a chance to survive and reproduce in an environment that does not pose an existential threat to the species. In recent years, assisted colonization has been presented as a potential solution to the climate change epidemic that has changed environments faster than natural selection can adapt to. While assisted colonization has the potential to allow species that have poor natural dispersal abilities to avoid extinction, it has also sparked intense debate over the possibility of the introduction of invasive species and diseases into previously healthy ecosystems. Despite these debates, scientists and land managers have already begun the process of assisted colonization for certain species.

Mark C. Urban

Mark C. Urban is a biologist and associate professor in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Connecticut. His work focuses on the ecological and evolutionary mechanisms that shape natural communities across multiple spatial scales.

Biodiversity loss is the extinction of species worldwide, and also the local reduction or loss of species in a certain habitat.

Informally, a global issue is any issue that adversely affects the global community and environment, such as environmental issues, political crisis, social issues and economic crisis. Global issues range in severity from minor issues that affect everyone to global catastrophic risks that threaten the existence of the entire human race or its society.


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