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Monday, June 4, 2012

Global climate change and biodiversity: Hot topics for a changing world

Despite naysayers that claim there is no such thing, evidence of global climate change keeps popping up in the news. Two recent reports illustrate changes in the natural world that can be attributed to warmer temperatures occurring earlier. Both note the profound effects this warming trend is having on the plant and animal kingdoms.

Glacier lily
Science Daily reports a recent study found the glacier lily, which grows in the Western US on mountain slopes, "is fast becoming a hothouse flower." As temperatures have risen, the plant has responded by blooming earlier - 17 days earlier than in the 1970s, according to a University of Maryland study. That earlier bloom may be detrimental to the broad-tail hummingbird, which depends on the flowers' nectar for nourishment. By the time the birds arrive to take advantage of the nectar, the flowers have withered.

Meanwhile, a New York Times opinion piece reports that a study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature shows almost 20,000 species across the globe are threatened. If the present rate of extinction continues, the world would lose three-quarters or more of its plant and animal species within the next few centuries. Such a loss could be categorized as the sixth mass extinction on Earth, the last occurring 65 million years ago with the extinction of dinosaurs.

"It is often forgotten how dependent we are on other species," writes Richard Pearson in the opinion piece. The American Museum of Natural History scientist, who authored Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity, continues: "Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies."

Photo by Thomas G. Barnes, USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database.

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