Letter | Published:

Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants

Nature volume 421, pages 5760 (02 January 2003) | Download Citation



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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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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  1. *Center for Environmental Science and Policy, Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Terry L. Root
  2. †American Bird Conservancy, 6525 Gunpark Drive, Suite 150-146, Boulder, Colorado 80301, USA

    • Jeff T. Price
  3. ‡Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, 13 Natural Resources Building, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan 48824-1222, USA

    • Kimberly R. Hall
  4. §Department of Biological Sciences & Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Stephen H. Schneider
  5. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Goddard Institute for Space Studies, 2880 Broadway, Suite 750, New York, New York 10025, USA

    • Cynthia Rosenzweig
  6. ¶Golden Toad Laboratory for Conservation, Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve and Tropical Science Center, Santa Elena, Puntarenas 5655, Box 73, Costa Rica

    • J. Alan Pounds


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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Terry L. Root.

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