A global overview of species range changes and an example of climate resilience in a climate vulnerable species

Camille Parmesan1

1 Plymouth University, Drakes Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA; camille.parmesan@plymouth.ac.uk

There have been  several global as well as regional meta-analyses of observed impacts of anthropogenic climate change on the distributions of species around the world.  I will give an overview of these results, focusing on the “big picture” trends that have emerged from changes across terrestrial, marine and freshwater systems.  While about half of all studied species have changed their distributions in response to recent climate change, to date most of these changes have had relatively little negative impact on those species.  However, we are starting to see negative impacts for the most vulnerable species – i.e. those occurring solely in sensitive systems or those that have already been highly impacted by other anthropogenic stressors.  Recovering these vulnerable species under a changing climate may not always be possible.  But where there is potential for recovery, robust conservation planning requires that we not only acknowledge and address threats and habitat needs of the past, but also anticipate and prepare for changing threats and needs, looking forward into future decades.  Euphydryas editha (Edith’s checkerspot butterfly) has been a poster-child of climate change impacts, having exhibited a northward and upward range shift in center of gravity of populations that matched regional shifts in annual temperature isotherms over the past 100 years.  While this species has clearly responded to anthropogenic climate change, recent studies have shown how complex local adaptation can generate resilience to climate warming, even in a climate-sensitive species.  Edith’s checkerspot also exemplifies how non-traditional, proactive regulation can, at least in the short term, protect an endangered species that is already responding to climate change.

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