Climate change to accelerate biodiversity loss

Fishermen at sea
Fishermen at the lake shores Copyright: Image by aga2rk from Pixabay

Speed read

  • Past climate change projections show that biodiversity loss could be severe by 2100
  • But new study shows the loss could abruptly occur as early as 2030 in Africa and other regions
  • Millions in rural communities could suffer from biodiversity loss, experts say

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[NAIROBI] Climate change could lead to sudden loss of biodiversity in Africa and other regions of the world sooner than predicted, with negative impacts on people’s food security and income, a study says.
In many developing countries, according to Christopher Trisos, the study’s lead author, more people rely on immediate natural environment for the livelihood, food security and income and thus “a sudden disruption or loss of local ecosystems could seriously impact the ability of people in these countries to earn an income and feed themselves, potentially pushing them further into extreme poverty”.
“Millions of people in these regions, for instance, rely on fishing as an essential source of food and income, as well as eco-tourism and an abrupt disruption of marine ecosystems with sudden loss of species could negatively impact their food security and income,” he adds.

“A sudden disruption or loss of local ecosystems could seriously impact the ability of people in these countries to earn an income.”

Christopher Trisos, University of Cape Town

The study says that temperature rises above two degrees Celsius will severely affect biodiversity by the end of the century, although it is unclear whether the changes will occur suddenly or gradually.
But the study, which resulted from simulations of climate change data and was published in Nature last week (8 April), suggests that abrupt biodiversity loss will begin as early as the 2030s in tropical ocean ecosystems under scenarios of temperature rises of at least two degrees Celsius.
“If we continue on a high emissions pathway, the risk will spread to tropical and temperate ecosystems on land by the 2050s,” says Trisos, a senior researcher at the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
Trisos tells SciDev.Net that Africa, Asia and Latin America have large tropical land and ocean ecosystems that are at high risk of abrupt biodiversity loss.
In marine ecosystems along the west coast of Africa and Indo-Pacific region, the disruption could occur within a decade from now, Trisos explains.
Researchers combined the climate data with data on incidence for 30,000 species of animals and plants including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, marine fish, corals, and seagrasses. They then calculated the warmest temperatures that each species had been exposed to between 1850 and 2005 as well as future scenarios for the years 2006–2100.
Abrupt biodiversity loss, Trisos tells SciDev.Net, is extremely dangerous because of local deaths of the tropical land and marine ecosystems.
Tobias Nyumba, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation, University of Nairobi, Kenya, says climate change’s negative impact on all levels of biodiversity —  from individual organisms to communities of plants and animals —  could accelerate the loss and even extinction of biodiversity.
“Global warming will also lead to the general loss of genetic diversity of populations through selection and rapid migration and hence alteration of ecosystem functions and resilience,” Nyumba explains.

Africa is considered one of the most biodiverse regions of the world but human activities and climatic threats will most certainly modify how biodiversity interact, particularly at community level and how they depend on each other, he says, adding that most species will lose their ability to adapt to the emerging set of environmental conditions.
With over 90 per cent rural population in Africa mainly relying on crop farming, livestock production, and nature-based income as poverty alleviation strategies, Nyumba calls for more action from African governments and key institutions.    
“African governments and practitioners will need to invest in understanding the relationships between climate change and human and economic development,” Nyumba says.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Christopher H. Trisos and others The projected timing of abrupt ecological disruption from climate change (Nature, 8 April 2020)