Evolution too slow to keep up with climate change, study says

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Many vertebrate species would have to evolve about 10,000 times faster than they have in the past to adapt to the rapid climate change expected in the next 100 years, a study led by a University of Arizona ecologist has found. Scientists analyzed how quickly species adapted to different climates in the past, using data from 540 living species from all major groups of terrestrial vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. They then compared their rates of evolution to rates of climate change projected for the end of this century. This is the first study to compare past rates of adaption to future rates of climate change.


he results, published online in the journal Ecology Letters, show that terrestrial vertebrate species appear to evolve too slowly to be able to adapt to the dramatically warmer climate expected by 2100. The researchers suggested that many species may face extinction if they are unable to move or acclimate.

"Every species has a climatic niche which is the set of temperature and precipitation conditions in the area where it lives and where it can survive," explained John J. Wiens, a professor in UA's department of ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Science. "For example, some species are found only in tropical areas, some only in cooler temperate areas, some live high in the mountains, and some live in the deserts."

Written By: e! Science News
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    • In reply to #1 by Alan4discussion:

      The birds out lasted the dinosaur extinction, so I guess are top of the mobility league in a changing climate!

      Many birds have the advantage they can already do long range migrations. All they need to do is adjust the end points.

      Polar bears and bowhead whales which need the deep cold of the arctic/antarctic will be in most trouble. There will be nowhere for them to do.

  1. This is one of those studies where I read it and go “well no sh*t shrelock” I mean I would have been shocked if they concluded anything different but I suppose with all the FUD being sown by the denialists we need solid research that demonstrates what anyone with a basic understanding of evolution would already know.

  2. It has happened before, though not by the actions of a single species. Adapt, move, or die. ‘The preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.’ After all we are just another species amongst many.

  3. All you can do is believe information like this. “Sounds good so it must be true” isn’t knowing anything at all.

    If this is a double meaning deal, the english are well on top of the climate change propaganda and will be outlawing it in school curriculum next year. They are well evolved.

  4. Some species will survive and others perish; sobs!

    We’re certainly for the chop; sobs again!

    Anyway, as Professor L M Krauss says, in the long run we’re all fucked; laughs, nervously!

  5. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this just a little tautologous? Or perhaps stating the obvious?

    In order for species to survive changing climates they need to evolve faster.
    But species evolve faster by being subjected to environmental pressures, such as climate change.
    Species only evolve by a portion of their species being wiped out, and they only evolve faster by a larger portion being wiped out.
    Populations that adapt survive, those that don’t are wiped out. That’s evolution in a nutshell.

    This may as well be saying climate change will change our weather, or rising temperatures will make the world hotter.

  6. I live in the California coastal redwood forest. We, here, are looking very carefully at the changes ahead. The birds can fly north, and some species can walk their way north, but our trees are hundreds to thousands of years old, don’t travel that well, don’t evolve very fast, and are dependent on a special fog linked climate pattern that can’t be artificially replaced on a forest wide basis.

    Check out this program from National Geographic to get an idea of what we don’t want to lose.

  7. Seems to me evolution is a result, not a entity that has to keep up. The speed of evolution is driven by the speed of environmental change. Climate change speeds up, evolution speeds up.

    • In reply to #16 by darren.scothern:

      Seems to me evolution is a result, not a entity that has to keep up. The speed of evolution is driven by the speed of environmental change. Climate change speeds up, evolution speeds up.

      Or extinction kicks in! – or at very high rates of change – mass extinctions kick in!

  8. This is the kind of research that should be front and center of the “debate” on climate change. We are a foolish species, probably doomed, due to economic models that have made us so successful in survival and expansion to date. More is better; profit, win, exploit, grow at all costs. It’s all about the economy, stupid. At the same time we can’t see a minute past our own existence. It is reasonable to suggest that these are the best of times, since science is leading us towards a nasty and bitter truth; in four to five generations from now, our time will seem magical to them. Some will no doubt ask, ‘what the hell were they thinking’? They could have done something but they killed us all and took every other species with them…

  9. Evolution will have plenty of time to mop up after many speices move of become extinct, already starting to happen. The real question we need to be asking is can we adapt with so many speicies dragged down so close the brink. I was heartbroken a few years a ago to hear the AUstralian Government was shutting down their seed bank program where we collected seed sample of from all over the world seems exactly the sort of thing we should be doing now if we had any sense.

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