Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 43: Expert explains biodiversity graph Royal Society report

It’s the end of the year so a good time to evaluate where we’re standing. Our climate-biodiversity series has progressed to episode 43. If you’ve missed it, we highly recommend you start at part 1, preferably under a Christmas tree (in a biodiverse spruce forest) with family. Sadly we cannot guarantee snow.

It’s also a very good time to try to summarise what we’ve been able to learn from the global community of climate researchers, our somewhat classical friends at the Royal Society thought. It’s been a while since the last IPCC report (AR5, 2013/2014) and apart from interesting upcoming IPCC publications about sea level rise and the important 1.5 degrees target it’ll be another long while until the next full-blown climate report will be released (IPCC AR6, 2022).

Let’s bridge that gap, the Royal Society thought – and compile our own climate updates report!
Biodiversity extinction risk under climate change - Mark Urban metastudy in Royal Society report
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 42: Do grass-eating Arctic geese suffer a climate mismatch?

Arctic geese like the Barnacle goose that breed on the Russian tundra and winter in the Netherlands need to increase the speed of their return trips, as the tundra spring starts weeks earlier – possibly skipping their fuelling stops on Baltic islands and along the White Sea, a model study shows.

Barnacle geese migrating between wintering and Arctic breeding grounds
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 41: Arctic bird shrinks due to mismatch with tundra insects

Many Arctic species are shrinking in size. Say what? Yes, shrinking in size – polar bears included. Is this some clever climate adaptation (as the opposite holds true: larger body sizes are an adaptation to a cold climate), or is it a sign of increasing malnourishment?

Well, the latter – at least in the case of the red knot (Calidris canutus), a long-distance migratory bird that breeds on the Russian Arctic tundra and winters in tropical West-Africa, using temperate zone tidal wetlands as a refuelling stop on their long road.

Red knots over the Dutch Wadden Sea - Kasper Hendriks
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 40: Warming changes spread of European ash tree dieback

Under very rare circumstances a spatial mismatch caused by climate change can be a good thing. But before you start betting on compensating one ecological disturbance with another that’s possibly even more dangerous, we think perhaps we should discuss another solution now that forest plagues seem to be increasing everywhere around us.

Ash tree dieback plague, climate change vs biodiversity
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 39: Warming also causes spatial mismatch interacting species

Climate change can cause a ‘temporal mismatch’ between interacting species, we learned in our previous article. Here’s a short appendix to that piece, illustrating how simultaneously also a spatial mismatch can develop – further promoting population declines and biodiversity loss, especially in Earth’s temperate climate zones.

European butterfly-host plant spatial mismatch caused by climate change
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 38: European migratory birds offer early climate warning

Migratory birds may seem to be well equipped to cope with the consequences of climate change, because their trait of seasonal migration is of course already an evolutionary adaptation to temperature fluctuations that characterise the seasons of Earth’s temperate climate zones.

But as we have discussed in our special piece about the effects of climate change on temperate zone biodiversity – it’s far more complex, and having evolved under relatively high natural temporal climate variation may actually be a handicap, when trying to adapt to globally rising temperatures under anthropogenic climate change. And birds migrating between Africa and Europe may be ahead of Asian and American species, facing early consequences.

Climate change affects migratory birds between Europe and Africa
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 37: If the sea ice goes, so does the Arctic ecosystem

All life forms that depend on Arctic sea ice will be hurt when that sea ice disappears. And especially when you also depend on other life forms that depend on sea ice. Polar bears are an obvious example (and if you go a bit deeper humans are also included).

We’ll skip the humans and talk about polar bears in a bit, but let’s first talk about the underlying issue: what science means – and how it’s actually quite easy to harness your own intelligence to interests that may want to try to confuse you. Yes, a scientific mind – a joy forever.

Arctic marine ecosystem: many species (inter)dependent on sea ice - including polar bears
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 36: Ocean plastic outpaces warming & CO2 in race to bottom

Earth’s oceans currently take up almost 50% of our CO2 emissions and absorb over 90% of the heat the other half of the CO2 traps in the atmosphere. Both ocean CO2 and heat absorption will have major consequences for deep-sea ecosystems, like ocean acidification, ocean anoxia, and increasing food scarcity – impacts that take a long time before they reach rock bottom, at several kilometres depth.

But at the same time humans are also doing something else: we’re also dumping hundreds of millions of tonnes of plastic trash into these same oceans. And for deep-sea organisms, that ocean crisis seems to hit home much faster…

Deep ocean plastic pollution - Mariana Trench
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 35: 9 megatrend graphs show little base for optimism

Over 15,000 scientists have endorsed a newly published paper titled ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice’ that’s set to quickly become a landmark publication. Essentially it’s an overview update (and very digestible, just a thousand words) on the State of our Planet, based on the progression of 9 classical sustainability indicators, and a sequel to a similar publication from exactly 25 years ago.

Since that year, 1992, the year of the famous Rio Conference where the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was founded, one of these indicators has improved, one seems to have plateaued [but not for a good reason] – and the 7 others are dramatically deteriorating, including the steady rise of CO2 and global temperature, and a seemingly unstoppable decline of Earth’s biodiversity. The below 9 megatrend graphs are central to the updated publication:

9 megatrends of Earth, 1 graph
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Climate Change & Anthropocene Extinction 34: ‘Sahel greening’ unlikely to benefit African biodiversity

The below graph comes from a new global temperature trend study that compares different established datasets for land and ocean temperature. The results emphasize an often-overlooked phenomenon: geographically ‘skewed warming’ – leading to planet-wide precipitation shifts. Possible effects not only include drying of both the Amazon Basin and Africa’s Congo Basin, but also possible greening of the Sahel and the bordering southern Sahara, in North Africa.

But African biodiversity, that has to take a loss in drying zones elsewhere on the rapidly warming continent, may stand little chance setting foot in areas that are greening. That’s because these climatic changes are outpaced by rapid human population growth and agricultural expansion – we learn from another recent study, that compared climatic trends to land use trends.

'Skewed global warming' - northern & southern hemisphere, land & ocean temperatures
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