Tropical Plants Headed for Extinction Early in Climate Warming
A new study published by climate scientists from the University of Hawaii indicates that global warming will impact tropical regions first – having devastating effects upon plant species.
The latest climate models now accepted by the International Energy Agency indicate that status quo will raise global temperatures by between 3.6 degrees F and 5.2 degrees, raising sea levels to catastrophic levels. This is above normal levels. We’ve already accomplished about 1 degree.
But another closer tipping point is coming in the next few decades. This is when the average temperature of any particular place will be hotter than any year between 1860 and 2005. The estimated time for the world as a whole for this tipping point is 2047, give or take five years according to the research.
The scary thing about this tipping point is that it will spell disaster for many plant species – especially those in regions closer to the equator. And it is in these tropical regions that more of the world’s precious plant species – the majority of them medicinal – dwell.
The issue is that these tropical regions will experience greater temperature rises than areas further from the equator.
This translates to the tipping point arriving as early as 2029 in tropical areas such as Lagos or Mexico City, according to the research.
The problem here is that most plants in tropical regions are more sensitive to temperature swings than in areas further from the equator. Tropical plants have a narrow range of tolerance – often only a few degrees. Because the temperature varies less among these regions, there is more sensitivity among those species.
This is called the Rapoport rule. The closer to the equator, the more sensitive these species are to temperature changes.
This means that we are likely to lose our tropical plant species before anything else. Extinct is the word.
And the world’s tropical areas contain the greatest diversity of plant life. There is a lot at risk here.
“Unprecedented climates will occur earliest in the tropics and among low-income countries, highlighting the vulnerability of global biodiversity and the limited governmental capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change,” stated the researchers.
Camilo Mora, Abby G. Frazier, Ryan J. Longman, Rachel S. Dacks, Maya M. Walton, Eric J. Tong, Joseph J. Sanchez, Lauren R. Kaiser, Yuko O. Stender, James M. Anderson, Christine M. Ambrosino, Iria Fernandez-Silva, Louise M. Giuseffi, Thomas W. Giambelluca. The projected timing of climate departure from recent variability. Nature 502, 183–187 (10 October 2013) doi:10.1038/nature12540
World Energy Outlook Special Report. Redrawing the Energy-Climate Map. http://www.iea.org/media/freepublications/executivesummary/WEO2013_Climate_Excerpt_ES_WEB.pdf