Mapping climate change

A map of Europe showing how fast and in which direction local climates are shifting

A map of Europe showing how fast and in which direction local climates are shifting

10 February 2014

Over the next century, plants and animals will need to adapt or shift locations to track their ideal climate in response continued global warming.

In research published in the journal Nature, Aberystwyth University academic Dr Pippa Moore, along with an international team of scientists from Australia, Canada, Germany, Spain, UK and USA, reveals global maps that show how fast and in which direction local climates are shifting.

This new study points to a simpler way of looking at climatic changes and their likely effects on biodiversity.

“The maps show us where plants and animals will have to move to stay within their existing thermal niches and thereby track climate change,” says Dr Pippa Moore from the Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University.

The study analysed 50 years of sea surface and land temperature data (1960-2009) and also investigated two future scenarios for marine environments (‘business as usual’ and 1.75°C temperature increase).

The new maps also show where new thermal environments are being locally generated and where existing conditions may disappear.

“Climate migration is far more complex than a simple shift towards the poles. Our research shows that climate migrants following temperature gradients may hit barriers such as coastlines. Those same barriers can create areas that are inaccessible to such migrants” says Prof Michael Burrows from the Scottish Association for Marine Science and lead author of the paper.

“Across the UK and Wales, species are already responding to warmer temperatures by shifting their ranges. Our results suggest that in UK and European waters thermal niches will aggregate in some areas, for example along the north coast of Wales and Liverpool Bay, potentially resulting in short-term increases in the biodiversity of climate migrants. In contrast, thermal niches will disappear in areas such as the North Sea, which means species susceptible to climate warming will have to adapt or move, and potentially leading to reduced biodiversity and ecosystem reorganisation” says Dr Moore.

“This study cannot be used to categorically predict what plants and animals will do in response to future climate warming,” says Dr Jorge García Molinos, a co-author on the paper.

“Biological factors such as a species’ capacity to adapt and disperse need to be taken into consideration. But in a period of rapid climate change on an already pressured planet, there is an urgent need for governments around the globe to develop adaptive management plans to ensure the continued sustainability of the goods and services provided by natural and agricultural systems. Our research can provide insights to future climate niches to help support the development of such management plans.”

To see what’s happening in your backyard download the Google Earth files here:

Dr Pippa Moore is a lecturer in Aquatic Biology within the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University. She is a marine community ecologists with particular research interests in understanding the effects humans have had, and continue to have, on marine biodiversity, and the structure and function of shallow-water ecosystems.