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Extinction risk from climate change


Climate change over the past 30 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 (18%) than mid-range (24%) and maximum-change (35%) 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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We thank the following for many contributions: E. Bolitho, V. Perez Canhos, D. A. L. Canhos, S. Carver, S. L. Chown, S. Fox, M. Kshatriya, D. Millar, A. G. Navarro-Sigüenza, R. S. Pereira, B. Reyers, E. Martínez-Meyer, V. Sánchez-Cordero, J. Soberón, D. R. B. Stockwell, W. Thuiller, D. A. Vieglais and K. J. Wessels, researchers involved in the Projeto de Cooperação Técnica Conservação e Manejo da Biodiversidade do Bioma Cerrado, EMBRAPA Cerrados, UnB, Ibama/DFID e RBGE/Reino Unido, and the European Bird Census Council. We thank G. Mace, J. Malcolm and C. Parmesan for valuable discussions, many funding agencies for support, and B. Orlando and others at IUCN for bringing together many of the coauthors at workshops. Comments from J. A. Pounds and S. Pimm greatly improved the manuscript.Authors' contributions The fourth and subsequent authors are alphabetically arranged and contributed equally.

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Correspondence to Chris D. Thomas.

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Supplementary Information: This file contains supplementary information on: a) modelling techniques and climate models used in each study; b) extinction estimates based on various z values, using the species-area approach; c) dealing with expanding species; d) Red Data Book (RDB) classifications and e) supplementary references. (DOC 63 kb)

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Thomas, C., Cameron, A., Green, R. et al. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427, 145–148 (2004).

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