Associated Press  [Printer-friendly version]
November 21, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: A review of 866 scientific studies finds
evidence that global warming is speeding up the extinction of

By Seth Borenstein

Washington -- Animal and plant species have begun dying off or
changing sooner than predicted because of global warming, a review of
hundreds of research studies contends.

These fast-moving adaptations come as a surprise even to biologists
and ecologists because they are occurring so rapidly.

At least 70 species of frogs, mostly mountain-dwellers that had
nowhere to go to escape the creeping heat, have gone extinct because
of climate change, the analysis says. It also reports that between 100
and 200 other cold-dependent animal species, such as penguins and
polar bears are in deep trouble.

"We are finally seeing species going extinct," said University of
Texas biologist Camille Parmesan, author of the study. "Now we've got
the evidence. It's here. It's real. This is not just biologists'
intuition. It's what's happening."

Her review of 866 scientific studies is summed up in the journal
Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics.

Parmesan reports seeing trends of animal populations moving northward
if they can, of species adapting slightly because of climate change,
of plants blooming earlier, and of an increase in pests and parasites.

Parmesan and others have been predicting such changes for years, but
even she was surprised to find evidence that it's already happening;
she figured it would be another decade away.

Just five years ago biologists, though not complacent, figured the
harmful biological effects of global warming were much farther down
the road, said Douglas Futuyma, professor of ecology and evolution at
the State University of New York in Stony Brook.

"I feel as though we are staring crisis in the face," Futuyma said.
"It's not just down the road somewhere. It is just hurtling toward us.
Anyone who is 10 years old right now is going to be facing a very
different and frightening world by the time that they are 50 or 60."

While over the past several years studies have shown problems with
certain species, animal populations or geographic areas, Parmesan's is
the first comprehensive analysis showing the big picture of global-
warming induced changes, said Chris Thomas, a professor of
conservation biology at the University of York in England.

While it's impossible to prove conclusively that the changes are the
result of global warming, the evidence is so strong and other
supportable explanations are lacking, Thomas said, so it is
"statistically virtually impossible that these are just chance

The most noticeable changes in plants and animals have to do with
earlier springs, Parmesan said. The best example can be seen in
earlier cherry blossoms and grape harvests and in 65 British bird
species that in general are laying their first eggs nearly nine days
earlier than 35 years ago.

Parmesan said she worries most about the cold-adapted species, such as
emperor penguins that have dropped from 300 breeding pairs to just
nine in the western Antarctic Peninsula, or polar bears, which are
dropping in numbers and weight in the Arctic.

The cold-dependent species on mountaintops have nowhere to go, which
is why two-thirds of a certain grouping of frog species have already
gone extinct, Parmesan said.

Populations of animals that adapt better to warmth or can move and
live farther north are adapting better than other populations in the
same species, Parmesan said.

"We are seeing a lot of evolution now," Parmesan said. However, no new
gene mutations have shown themselves, not surprising because that
could take millions of years, she said.