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Climate change threatens habitats

by Dan Vergano
USA TODAY

Global warming will destroy more than half of the habitats of most plants and a third of animals by 2080, biologists conclude, unless steps are taken to limit greenhouse gases.

During the last century, average global surface temperatures have increased about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the National Academy of Sciences. This global warming is largely because of burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, which retain heat and warm the atmosphere. Temperatures worldwide are expected to rise about 7 degrees by 2100 if the use of fossil fuels continues without attempts to mitigate their effects.

Without mitigation, “large-range contractions can be expected even among common and widespread species,” concludes the study led by Rachel Warren of the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia. It was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

In the study, biologists and climate researchers looked at the effects of these increasing temperatures on the living space of 48,786 animal and plant species worldwide.

“With no mitigation, the climate becomes particularly unsuitable for both plants and animals in sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, Amazonia and Australia,” the study said

Overall, the study finds that 57 percent of plants and 34 percent of animals will see their habitats cut by 50 percent or more by 2080, as temperature changes make them unsuitable for the species. Given warming that already has occurred, some of those losses already are locked in, but they could be reduced by 60 percent if greenhouse gas emissions were to peak in 2016, the study shows.

“The terrifying loss of biodiversity predicted by this study shows that climate chaos will fundamentally transform our planet,” Shaye Wolf of the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, says in a statement about the study.

The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report had estimated that more than 20 percent of species worldwide are at “high risk” of extinction if temperatures rise more than 3.6 degrees in this century.

2013 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.

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