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Climate Change Significantly Raises Risk of Species Extinction

Feb 26, 2014 12:22 PM EST

A new study assessing the factors that predispose species to extinction risk due to climate change has revealed that, in terms of assessing extinction threats, climate change is not fundamentally different from other types of extinction risk.

Writing in the journal Nature Climate Change a team of NASA-funded researchers led by Richard Pearson of University College London and Resit Akçakaya of Stony Brook University in New York, report their analysis of 36 amphibian and reptile species endemic to the US, concluding that the threats posed to these species by climate change can be assessed just as easily as threats from other fronts.

"Surprisingly, we found that most important factors - such as having a small range or low population size - are already used in conservation assessments. These new results indicate that current systems may be better able to identify species vulnerability to climate change than previously thought," Pearson said.

The researchers found that among the reptiles and amphibians studied there was a 28 percent chance of overall extinction by 2100. Taking climate change out of the equation, the risk of extinction for these species by 2100 was less than 1 percent, which indicates that climate change will cause dramatic increases in extinction risk as the century goes on.

"The bad news is that climate change will cause many extinctions unless species-specific conservation actions are taken; but the good news is that the methods conservation organizations have been using to identify which species need the most urgent help also work when climate change is the main threat," Akçakaya said.

The researchers suggest that conservation actions should focus on species that occupy a small or declining area, have a small population size or have great fluctuations in population.

While the focus of this study was limited to reptiles and amphibians, the researchers say it could easily be expanded to other animal groups.

"Our analysis will hopefully be able to help create better guidelines that account for the effects of climate change in assessing extinction risk," Pearson said.

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