Climate Change Impacts Might Be Worse in Tropics

An ecologist at Wake Forest University who has studied how tropical Peruvian forests are adapting to climate change, Miles Silman, and many other ecologists, have come to believe that climate change is likely to have an equal, indeed probably even greater impact in the tropics than in the temperate regions, reports Elizabeth Kolbert at Yale Environment 360. Temperatures in the tropics are a lot less variable than at higher latitudes, so tropical species tend to have a narrow range of “thermal tolerance.” There also, temperature belts tend to be wider; thus, tropical species will have to move a lot farther (and therefore faster) than temperate species to find a tolerable climate. Meanwhile, because the tropics are already the hottest places on earth, temperature increases there will create “novel climates” of a sort that probably haven’t been seen on earth in millions of years. Finally, tropics are where most species actually live, hotbeds of biodiversity and also heavily populated by humans. In Peru, that means many highlands are deforested for grazing, so even if forests could expand fast enough up mountains, there might be no room for them there, anyway.


At Yale Environment 360 this week, author Elizabeth Kolbert travels to the Peruvian Andes with scientists seeking to determine whether tree populations can move uphill fast enough to survive warming temperatures. The eastern Andes, with steep slopes and extraordinary biodiversity, are what one scientist calls a “perfect laboratory” for studying the effects of climate change. On this high-altitude trek, the researchers found one type of tree that had been climbing upslope at the rate of nearly 100 feet a year as it tried to keep pace with changing temperatures. And they found some trees that appeared to be new species, which they carried out with them because, as Kolbert writes, “with the future of the forest so uncertain, it seems important that every species be counted.” Read her report.

About melharte

Mel (Mary Ellen) Harte is a biologist (PhD) and climate change educator. She co-authored the free online book, COOL THE EARTH, SAVE THE ECONOMY, available at www.CoolTheEarth.US, and writes the CLIMATE CHANGE THIS WEEK column at the HuffingtonPost. Living summers in the alpine Rockies, she is on the frontlines of watching what climate change can do. Her diagnostic digital photographs of wildflowers have appeared in numerous publications.
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