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Scientists use the speed of climate change to predict biodiversity changes

Long-spined sea urchin

The Long-spined sea urchin, which is migrating down the eastern coast of Australia and destroying kelp forests. Image: Scott Ling IMAS

March 2014

By Kevin Grunewald and Linden Ashcroft

Several ClimateWatch species advisors from CSIRO and other scientists from around the world have recently developed new maps that provide insight about how species may respond to climate change. The maps show the 'climate change velocity', or the speed and direction in which local temperatures have shifted over the past 50 years.

This information, along with knowledge of regional geography, can help to inform predictions about how the home ranges of species may change as local populations migrate in response to rising temperatures.

The research, published in Nature, paints an ominous picture of the challenges to come for terrestrial and aquatic species. Coastlines and alpine regions, for example, act as climate 'dead ends', where species can not migrate any further and may face extinction.

However, this type of location-specific data will help to identify particularly vulnerable areas and therefore allow scientists and policy makers to focus their conservation efforts and make more well-informed management decisions. The climate velocity maps can be downloaded as Google Earth layers here.

Interested in contributing to a project that will further develop our knowledge of how species respond to climate change? Start logging your ClimateWatch observations here.