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.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1.

    & A globally coherent fingerprint of climate change impacts across natural systems. Nature 421, 37–42 (2003)

  2. 2.

    et al. Fingerprints of global warming on wild animals and plants. Nature 421, 57–60 (2003)

  3. 3.

    , & Biological response to climate change on a tropical mountain. Nature 398, 611–615 (1999)

  4. 4.

    , & in Paleoclimate, Global Change and the Future (eds Alverson, K., Bradley, R. & Pedersen, T.) 81–103 (Springer, Berlin, 2002)

  5. 5.

    & How to kill (almost) all life: the end-Permian extinction event. Trends Ecol. Evol. 18, 358–365 (2003)

  6. 6.

    et al. Climate change 2001: the Scientific Basis. Contributions of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2001)

  7. 7.

    , , , & Assessing effects of forecasted climate change on the diversity and distribution of European higher plants for 2050. Global Change Biol. 8, 390–407 (2002)

  8. 8.

    & Potential changes in the distributions of latitudinally restricted Australian butterfly species in response to climate change. Global Change Biol. 8, 954–971 (2002)

  9. 9.

    , , , & Vulnerability of South African animal taxa to climate change. Global Change Biol. 8, 679–693 (2002)

  10. 10.

    , , & Assessing the vulnerability of species richness to anthropogenic climate change in a biodiversity hotspot. Global Ecol. Biogeogr. 11, 445–451 (2002)

  11. 11.

    et al. Future projections for Mexican faunas under global climate change scenarios. Nature 416, 626–629 (2002)

  12. 12.

    , & Climate change in Australian tropical rainforests: an impending environmental catastrophe. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 270, 1887–1892 (2003)

  13. 13.

    Species Diversity in Space and Time (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1995)

  14. 14.

    , & Time lag between deforestation and bird extinction in tropical forest fragments. Conserv. Biol. 13, 1140–1150 (1999)

  15. 15.

    , & Deforestation predicts the number of threatened birds in insular Southeast Asia. Conserv. Biol. 11, 382–394 (1997)

  16. 16.

    IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, version 3.1. (IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland, Switzerland, 2001).

  17. 17.

    , & Habitat conversion and global avian biodiversity loss. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 270, 1293–1300 (2003)

  18. 18.

    et al. Determination of deforestation rates of the world's humid tropical forests. Science 297, 999–1002 (2002)

  19. 19.

    , , , & Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403, 853–858 (2000)

  20. 20.

    , , , & Current patterns of habitat transformation and future threats to biodiversity in terrestrial ecosystems of the Cape Floristic Region, South Africa. Biol. Conserv. 112, 63–85 (2003)

  21. 21.

    Potential impacts of global elevated CO2 concentrations on plants. Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. 5, 207–211 (2002)

  22. 22.

    , & The importance of low atmospheric CO2 and fire in promoting the spread of grasslands and savannas. Global Change Biol. 9, 973–982 (2003)

  23. 23.

    Impacts and responses at population level of herbivorous insects to elevated CO2. Eur. J. Entomol. 96, 149–156 (1999)

  24. 24.

    et al. Biodiversity—global biodiversity scenarios for the year 2100. Science 287, 1770–1774 (2000)

  25. 25.

    A guide to CO2 sequestration. Science 300, 1677–1678 (2003)

  26. 26.

    The impact of temperature on the northern distribution limits of the introduced species Fallopia japonica and Impatiens glandulifera in north-west Europe. J. Biogeog. 20, 45–53 (1993)

  27. 27.

    et al. The role of climatic mapping in predicting the potential geographical distribution of non-indigenous pests under current and future climates. Agric. Ecosyst. Environ. 82, 57–71 (2000)

  28. 28.

    & Predicting species invasions using ecological niche modeling. BioScience 51, 363–371 (2001)

  29. 29.

    & Predicting the impacts of climate change on the distribution of species: are bioclimate envelope models useful? Global Ecol. Biogeog. 12, 361–371 (2003)

  30. 30.

    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis. (2001).

Download references


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.

Author information

Author notes

    • Lera Miles

    Present address: UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK


  1. Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Chris D. Thomas
    •  & Alison Cameron
  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

    • Rhys E. Green
  3. National Institute of Public Health and Environment, P.O. Box 1, 3720 BA Bilthoven, The Netherlands

    • Michel Bakkenes
  4. Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, 2109, NSW, Australia

    • Linda J. Beaumont
    •  & Lesley Hughes
  5. University of Durham, School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

    • Yvonne C. Collingham
    •  & Brian Huntley
  6. Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, WITS 2050, South Africa

    • Barend F. N. Erasmus
  7. Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental, Av. Romeu Tórtima 228, Barão Geraldo, CEP:13083-885, Campinas, SP, Brazil

    • Marinez Ferreira de Siqueira
  8. School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK

    • Alan Grainger
    • , Lera Miles
    •  & Oliver L. Phillips
  9. Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, Conservation International, 1919 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA

    • Lee Hannah
  10. Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Stellenbosch 7602, South Africa

    • Albert S. van Jaarsveld
  11. Climate Change Research Group, Kirstenbosch Research Centre, National Botanical Institute, Private Bag x7, Claremont 7735, Cape Town, South Africa

    • Guy F. Midgley
  12. Unidad Occidente, Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México, D.F. 04510 México

    • Miguel A. Ortega-Huerta
  13. Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045 USA

    • A. Townsend Peterson
  14. Cooperative Research Centre for Tropical Rainforest Ecology, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4811, Australia

    • Stephen E. Williams


  1. Search for Chris D. Thomas in:

  2. Search for Alison Cameron in:

  3. Search for Rhys E. Green in:

  4. Search for Michel Bakkenes in:

  5. Search for Linda J. Beaumont in:

  6. Search for Yvonne C. Collingham in:

  7. Search for Barend F. N. Erasmus in:

  8. Search for Marinez Ferreira de Siqueira in:

  9. Search for Alan Grainger in:

  10. Search for Lee Hannah in:

  11. Search for Lesley Hughes in:

  12. Search for Brian Huntley in:

  13. Search for Albert S. van Jaarsveld in:

  14. Search for Guy F. Midgley in:

  15. Search for Lera Miles in:

  16. Search for Miguel A. Ortega-Huerta in:

  17. Search for A. Townsend Peterson in:

  18. Search for Oliver L. Phillips in:

  19. Search for Stephen E. Williams in:

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chris D. Thomas.

Supplementary information

About this article

Publication history





Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.