Global Warming Already Causing Extinctions, Scientists Say

November 28, 2006

No matter where they look, scientists are finding that global warming is already killing species—and at a much faster rate than had originally been predicted.

"What surprises me most is that it has happened so soon," said biologist Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas, Austin, lead author of a new study of global warming's effects.

Parmesan and most other scientists hadn't expected to see species extinctions from global warming until 2020.

But populations of frogs, butterflies, ocean corals, and polar birds have already gone extinct because of climate change, Parmesan said.

Scientists were right about which species would suffer first—plants and animals that live only in narrow temperature ranges and those living in cold climates such as Earth's Poles or mountaintops.

"The species dependent on sea ice—polar bear, ring seal, emperor penguin, Adélie penguin—and the cloud forest frogs are showing massive extinctions," Parmesan said.

Her review compiles 866 scientific studies on the effects of climate change on terrestrial, marine, and freshwater species. The study appears in the December issue of the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics.

Global Phenomenon

Bill Fraser is a wildlife ecologist with the Polar Oceans Research Group in Sheridan, Montana.

"There is no longer a question of whether one species or ecosystem is experiencing climate change. [Parmesan's] paper makes it evident that it is almost global," he said.

"The scale now is so vast that you cannot continue to ignore climate change," added Fraser, who began studying penguins in the Antarctic more than 30 years ago. "It is going to have some severe consequences."

Many species, for example, have shifted their ranges in response to rising temperatures.

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