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article imageEvolution too slow to deal with climate change, study says

By Michael Thomas     Jul 10, 2013 in Science
A new study by a University of Arizona ecologist says that most vertebrates will have to evolve 10,000 times as quickly as they did in the past in order to keep up with climate change expected in the next 100 years.
The study, which was published in the journal Ecology Letters, says that terrestrial vertebrates don't seem to evolve quickly enough to adapt to what are expected to be dramatically warmer temperatures by 2100. The study also says that vertebrates who can't adapt in time will face extinction.
The study had John J. Wiens, a professor of the university's ecology and evolutionary biology department, and research partner Ignacio Quintero look at some 540 species of vertebrates including mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The two compared the animals' rates of evolution alongside current rates of climate change.
To analyze the data, Wiens and Quintero analyzed phylogenies, which are in essence evolutionary family trees that show how recently in the past animals split from their trees. The study covered 17 family trees which encompass most major animal groups.
This is the first study that has compared past rates of evolutionary change to future rates of climate change.
"We found that on average, species usually adapt to different climatic conditions at a rate of only by about one degree Celsius per million years," said Wiens. "But if global temperatures are going to rise by about four degrees over the next hundred years as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, that is where you get a huge difference in rates. What that suggests overall is that simply evolving to match these conditions may not be an option for many species."
Nature World News reports that, according to a recent statement by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, about 21,000 animal species are at risk of extinction because of climate change and habitat loss.
More about Evolution, Climate change, Environment, Extinction
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