Plants and animals will probably be unable to respond to changes in environmental conditions fast enough to keep pace with climate change.
Tereza Jezkova and John Wiens of the University of Arizona, Tucson, looked at 56 plant and animal species and documented shifts in their 'climatic niche' — the temperature and precipitation conditions they survive in.
They compared these shifts in climatic niches with rates of predicted future change under global warming. On average, expected rates of change in temperature were more than 200,000-fold higher under future climate conditions than rates seen in past shifts, and precipitation changes were more than 10,000-fold higher. Even those groups that had the fastest niche shifts in the past will still experience rates of temperature change that are 300-fold higher in future.
Historical changes were slowest for tropical species, suggesting that they will be especially vulnerable to climate change, the authors warn.
Proc. R. Soc. B http://doi.org/btn5 (2016)