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Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity

Lake Hume Climate Change Impact © Tim Keegan

Climate change is already having noticeable impacts on biodiversity. Projected future changes are likely to result in changes in the distribution of species and ecosystems, and overall biodiversity loss. Individual species respond differently, according to their climate tolerances and their ability to disperse into a new location, alter their phenology (e.g. breeding date) or adapt to shifting food sources. This means that it is difficult to predict how communities will change or how current interactions between species will be affected.

Many studies have attempted to project the rate and extent of species or ecosystem responses to climate change. Terrestrial species are typically expected to move towards higher latitudes or higher altitudes, tracking shifts in temperature. Marine ecosystems will be affected not only by an increase in sea temperature and changes in ocean circulation, but also by ocean acidification, which increases the vulnerability of fragile ecosystems such as coral reefs.

UNEP-WCMC is involved in assessing the effects of climate change on biodiversity throughout its programmes. Past work has involved the assessment of the impacts of climate change on the Natura 2000 network, a comprehensive literature review on the links between biodiversity and climate change: impacts, adaptation and mitigation for the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group for the Convention on Biological Diversity on climate change, and analysis of the potential impacts of climate change on Arctic birds.