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Abstract

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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Acknowledgements

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

Affiliations

  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

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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Chris D. Thomas.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02121

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