Letters to Nature

Nature 427, 145-148 (8 January 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02121; Received 10 September 2003; Accepted 13 October 2003

There is a Brief Communications Arising (1 July 2004) associated with this document.

There is a Brief Communications Arising (1 July 2004) associated with this document.

There is a Brief Communications Arising (1 July 2004) associated with this document.

Extinction risk from climate change

Chris D. Thomas1, Alison Cameron1, Rhys E. Green2, Michel Bakkenes3, Linda J. Beaumont4, Yvonne C. Collingham5, Barend F. N. Erasmus6, Marinez Ferreira de Siqueira7, Alan Grainger8, Lee Hannah9, Lesley Hughes4, Brian Huntley5, Albert S. van Jaarsveld10, Guy F. Midgley11, Lera Miles8,15, Miguel A. Ortega-Huerta12, A. Townsend Peterson13, Oliver L. Phillips8 & Stephen E. Williams14

  1. Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
  2. Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL, UK, and Conservation Biology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK
  3. National Institute of Public Health and Environment, P.O. Box 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, The Netherlands
  4. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, 2109, NSW, Australia
  5. University of Durham, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK
  6. Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, WITS 2050, South Africa
  7. Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental, Av. Romeu Tórtima 228, Barão Geraldo, CEP:13083-885, Campinas, SP, Brazil
  8. School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
  9. Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International, 1919 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
  10. Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Stellenbosch 7602, South Africa
  11. Climate Change Research Group, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, National Botanical Institute, Private Bag x7, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa
  12. Unidad Occidente, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F. 04510 México
  13. Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045 USA
  14. Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia
  15. Present address: UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK

Correspondence to: Chris D. Thomas1 Email: c.d.thomas@leeds.ac.uk

Climate change over the past approx30 years has produced numerous shifts in the distributions and abundances of species1, 2 and has been implicated in one species-level extinction3. Using projections of species' distributions for future climate scenarios, we assess extinction risks for sample regions that cover some 20% of the Earth's terrestrial surface. Exploring three approaches in which the estimated probability of extinction shows a power-law relationship with geographical range size, we predict, on the basis of mid-range climate-warming scenarios for 2050, that 15–37% of species in our sample of regions and taxa will be 'committed to extinction'. When the average of the three methods and two dispersal scenarios is taken, minimal climate-warming scenarios produce lower projections of species committed to extinction (approx18%) than mid-range (approx24%) and maximum-change (approx35%) scenarios. These estimates show the importance of rapid implementation of technologies to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and strategies for carbon sequestration.

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