Article on Reuters blog includes:
Animals, plants and even insects are now adapting quickly to shifts in temperatures, often by migrating to cooler climates, modifying their diets and altering breeding cycles.
This is happening at blinding speed in large, complex ecosystems. Throughout most of the 20th century, for example, tree range shift occurred at about 0.4 miles a year. Since 1990, however, climate changes have caused species range to move by an average of 12 miles a year. A 2009 U.S. Forest Service study, tracking 40 major tree species in 30 Eastern states, concluded that tree ranges had moved, on average, more than 60 miles north in less than a century.
More than 60 percent of the birds the National Wildlife Federation tracked in a recent study have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the last 40 years. Fourteen small mammal species in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were found to have extended the elevation at which they can survive by an average of 1,640 feet.
This rapid adaptation is occurring around the world. British researchers recently analyzed more than 2,000 animal and plant species in Britain and found that many had already made significant adaptations to a changing environment.
Media coverage of climate change usually focuses on the dramatic effects of the natural disasters generated, or exacerbated, by these changing ecosystems. The droughts in the Midwest, hurricane Sandy and the relative absence of snow are all easy to understand, and their impact on human life is immediate and visible.
Our tendency to downplay the less visible, but more fundamental, clues – like the changes occurring in the animal kingdom – is understandable. But misguided. Think of these as early warning signs of the potentially profound changes to come if we do not act soon. If global temperatures increase more than two to three degrees Fahrenheit above current levels, according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, up to one-third of the species on Earth could be at risk of extinction.
That could include us.
The natural world is acting on climate change, even if Washington isn’t. We need to start paying attention.