Are Tropical Species More Threatened than Arctic Ones from Global Warming?
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March 23, 2009

Are Tropical Species More Threatened than Arctic Ones from Global Warming?

600pxmachu_picchu_panorama_2_3 A team of researchers say that in spite of all the media attention given to the Arctic region and polar bears, species living in the tropics may face an even greater risk as the world warms up. Shrinking polar ice has concerned ecologists that polar bears will soon start dying off as their hunting ground literally melts away.

However, according to a team led by University of Washington, while temperature changes will be much more extreme at high latitudes, tropical species have a far greater risk of extinction since even relatively slight warming of just a degree or two can have a  devastating impact. The Daily Galaxy asked Joshua Tewksbury, a biologist at the University of Washington who is studying tropic species, why these warm weather species are in greater danger. After all, it’s already warm where they live, so how could just a degree or two of warming make much of a difference?

“We’re looking specifically at the intersection between where an organism lives, and how susceptible they are to change. What we found is that organisms in the tropics are much less resilient to heat change,” Tewksbury explained to The Daily Galaxy.

Why? Because tropic species are adapted to living within a much more narrow temperature range. Once temperatures get beyond that comfortable range, many species will likely have a difficult time coping.

Geographically, Earth’s tropical region is a giant belt that stretches from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn; or, in actual terms, just south of Miami to half way through Australia.

However a more scientific definition is taken by meteorologists who define the tropics as a region defined by a long term climate. It is this definition that has shown the shift in the width of the tropics towards our planet’s poles.

"There's a strong relationship between your physiology and the climate you live in," said Tewksbury, "In the tropics many species appear to be living at or near their thermal optimum, a temperature that lets them thrive. But once temperature gets above the thermal optimum, fitness levels most likely decline quickly and there may not be much they can do about it."

Arctic species, on the other hand, often experience temperatures ranging from subzero to a comparatively warm 60 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically live at temperatures well below their thermal limit, and most will continue to do so even with climate change.

"Many tropical species can only tolerate a narrow range of temperatures because the climate they experience is pretty constant throughout the year," said Curtis Deutsch, an assistant professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Our calculations show that they will be harmed by rising temperatures more than would species in cold climates.

"Unfortunately, the tropics also hold the large majority of species on the planet," he said.

Tewksbury and Deutsch are lead authors of a paper detailing the research, published in the May 6 print edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists compared data describing the relationship between temperatures and fitness for a variety of temperate and tropical insect species, as well as frogs, lizards and turtles. Fitness levels were measured by examining population growth rates in combination with physical performance.

"The direct effects of climate change on the organisms we studied appear to depend a lot more on the organisms' flexibility than on the amount of warming predicted for where they live," Tewksbury said. "The tropical species in our data were mostly thermal specialists, meaning that their current climate is nearly ideal and any temperature increases will spell trouble for them."

So does that mean that we should turn our focus away from the Arctic? Definitely not, says Tewksbury. Polar bears are in danger, but its just for different reasons than for tropic species. It’s not the temperature itself that will harm the bears—they already live in a climate that varies wildly throughout the year—what will harm them is the loss of habitat they will face as polar ice disappears. Many tropic species, on the other hand, will actually likely be harmed directly from the rising temperature itself since their physiology cannot handle the vastly swaying temperatures like the bears can.

“The polar bears are in trouble, but what many don’t know is that even a small amount of change in the tropics could effect a vast number of species,” Tewksbury told The Daily Galaxy. “People won’t see as dramatic decline, because many tropic species that will be effected like insects and lizards, simply don’t have the appeal that the polar bear has. Yet they are still vitally important to their ecosystems.”

Independent teams set out to measure the atmospheric data available, and using four different meteorological measurements, found that the tropical belt has grown by between 2 and 4.8 degrees of latitude since 1979. This measurement translates to a total expansion – north and south – of 140 to 330 miles.

Climate scientists have long predicted that, by the end of the 21st century, a growth of the tropical belt was expected. But the growth that has taken place over the last quarter-century is puzzling, and not part of their theories.

Dian Seidel, a research meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Silver Spring, Md, is confused. "They are big changes," she said. "It's a little puzzling."

And while one explanation for the expanding tropics is indeed global warming, others vie for ranking as another explanation. Depletions in the ozone layer and changes in El Nino are both other options that could explain what has happened.

So while much of the tropics are thought to be just that – tropical – there are great swathes of desert as well. One only needs to look at Australia to see that played out, with the ‘Top End’ dominated by rain forests and rainy seasons, that sit just on top of the massive desert center.

It is these desert areas that sit on the edge of tropical locations, such as the U.S. Southwest, parts of the Mediterranean, and of course Australia, that are at the most risk, according to the experts.

While warming is happening much faster at higher elevations, it is also occurring at a slower rate in tropic zones, which over time will likely just as severe of an impact, but for different reasons. They may not be as majestic as polar bears, says Tewksbury, but we can’t forget about the little guys.

Posted by Rebecca Sato.

Related Galaxy posts:

The “Little Ice Age” Argument Makes a Comeback: Abrupt Climate Change Goes Both Ways, Warns Scientist
Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
Cosmic Rays -The Cause of Global Warming?
The Milky Way Enigma -How Galactic Forces May Control Life on Earth
Are Global Warming Models Accurately Predicting Our Future? New Study Reveals the Answer—A Galaxy Interview

Comments

Too bad you people are not considering the facts of the OTHER side of the story of "Global Warming". It's called "Global Cooling".

You might want to take into account new facts and data about this subject before you continue to provide stories based on a false assumption.

This is an interesting article. I just wish Mitch the Bitch would crawl back under the rock of right wing denial that he slimed his way out from under. Go away!

You're always so negative and I'm sick of reading your asinine comments on this site. Stop reading these articles if you think they are biased. Sato just quoted an expert and summarized a recent scientific study, so what do you have a stick up your ass about that for?

Let me guess, you think journalists should only cover scientific studies that support your own personal world view. You probably also think that George Bush has been the greatest leader of the 21st century. Get a clue.

ps. in case anyone is wondering what I was ranting about there, it looks like the moderator removed the offending comment I was referencing.

I come here for science but instead am pushed a never-ending stream of eco-disaster articles that arent anything more than pure propaganda intended, through repetition a series of 1960s counter-culture warriors doing everything in their power to steal my rights and liberty through scare tactics that Stalin would be proud of. No science involved here folks, just pure un-adulterated fascism, silence any and all opposition. Far and away the most offensive is Rebecca Sato.

this would be popular science(look at the WEBSITE,this is the internet), if youre so shirty about it why arent you reading peer reviewed journals. As for the validity of the story, read up on regime shifts,ecosystem resilience and biodiversity. No scaremongering and stoopid political affiliations.....Folke et al, Swearer et al, Turner and Hawkins, Cox and Moore...go on, have a real go.I wouldnt lassify this s eco-disaster, thats the media's slant, what is reported happens and has long before we got here.

With all of science and data coming forward it is evident to anyone that the globe is cooling. Earth has followed its natural cycles for its life-time and will do so for the remainder of it's life. I agree that man should not pollute our beautiful planet and we must be responsible and preserve and conserve for our grandchildren and the future generations. I see global warming as nothing more than a global money grab to facilitate someone's lofty plans aided and abetted by the media, nothing more. Buy longjohns.

Great...

remember, no questions just send your green tax $ to:
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it's odd how people are so quick to get all freaked out about what COULD happen, what MAY happen, and completely disregard what IS HAPPENING. for instance, potable water is becoming scarce in developing countries - how long before it is ALL tainted with metals and carcinogens? sea life is dying off due to pollution - how long before the "dead zones" of the oceans cover half the ocean? all of it? how long before ALL the coral reefs are dead? (they are down by an estimated 1/5th right now) why don't we take care to protect ourselves from our destructive path? a mass extinction event may be inevitable as the planet warms due to the ending of an ice age - something we have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTROL OVER. but if we continue to flood our environment with radioactivity and chemical pollutants, we may die off too. wouldn't that be a shame?

Global Warming is a hoax used by the elite to tax the shit out of you.

Have fun buying your carbon taxes.

"1960s counter-culture warriors doing everything in their power to steal my rights and liberty through scare tactics that"

Posted by: Extinction | May 26, 2008 at 06:31 PM

Yes that is exactly why "global warming" is a scare, to steal YOUR rights away.

Somewhere, someplace, the world leaders have gathered, no doubt controlled by zionist bankers, came together and thought what evil deeds can we commit now?

I know! Lets steal some douche's rights! out of all the people in the world lets take his rights as he's the most important person in the world, did you know the sun actually revolves around his ass?

[/RANT]

In all seriousness the scientists may be wrong, the climate is something that we have no home of predicting with any accuracy.
However last time I checked the rules of physics still applied, if you pumped gas into the air for close to a hundred years it had an affect. Almost an equal and opposite reaction.

Now Carbon taxes are ridiculous, anything the government in regards to this is ridiculous, purely because there the government.

What it does do right however is highlight the fact that people need to be aware of the environment, I dont mind paying extra taxes if as a whole we become aware of our environment and realise the obvious truth that we cannot live without it, and if we are to survive without losing 50% of the population we need to live in harmony.
God I hate hippies, I've always hated them growing up, now I hate them even more because they were right all along.

Worth a visit.
checked the rules of physics still applied,

good
Earth’s tropical region is a giant belt that stretches from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn; or, in actual terms, just south of Miami to half way through Australia.

good
What we found is that organisms in the tropics are much less resilient

Well worth a visit
What we found is that organisms in the tropics are much less resilient to heat change,” Tewksbury explained to The Daily Galaxy.

Well, quite interesting.
of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists compared data describing the relationship between temperatures and fitness for a variety of temperate and tropical insect species, as well as frogs, lizards and turtles. Fitness levels were measured by examining

Worth a visit.
Los Angeles. "Our calculations show that they will be harmed by rising temperatures more than would species in cold climates.

Well worth a visit


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