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Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants

Abstract

Over the past 100 years, the global average temperature has increased by approximately 0.6 °C and is projected to continue to rise at a rapid rate1. Although species have responded to climatic changes throughout their evolutionary history2, a primary concern for wild species and their ecosystems is this rapid rate of change3. We gathered information on species and global warming from 143 studies for our meta-analyses. These analyses reveal a consistent temperature-related shift, or ‘fingerprint’, in species ranging from molluscs to mammals and from grasses to trees. Indeed, more than 80% of the species that show changes are shifting in the direction expected on the basis of known physiological constraints of species. Consequently, the balance of evidence from these studies strongly suggests that a significant impact of global warming is already discernible in animal and plant populations. The synergism of rapid temperature rise and other stresses, in particular habitat destruction, could easily disrupt the connectedness among species and lead to a reformulation of species communities, reflecting differential changes in species, and to numerous extirpations and possibly extinctions.

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Figure 1: Frequency distribution of species and groups of species (see text) with a temperature-related trait changing by number of days in 10 years.
Figure 2: Means ± s.e.m. of days changed for the given groups of species.

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Acknowledgements

T.L.R. acknowledges partial support from the US Environmental Protection Agency, the Winslow Foundation, the University of Michigan's Office of the Vice President for Research, and the School of Natural Resources and Environment. S.H.S. acknowledges partial support from the Winslow Foundation. We thank T. Haff, J. Jeffries, M. Kirpes, J. Manternach, T. Reed, A. Stover, C. Wood and J. Cary for their efforts. In addition, we thank M. Apps, J. Magnuson and C. Parmesan for stimulating discussions and for help in finding obscure articles.

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Correspondence to Terry L. Root.

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Root, T., Price, J., Hall, K. et al. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421, 57–60 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature01333

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