Biodiversity Hotspots are the Most Vulnerable to Global Warming
Mon, April 19, 2021

Biodiversity Hotspots are the Most Vulnerable to Global Warming

Many people are confused about the difference between global warming and climate change. While both have destructive impacts on our planet, global warming is just one aspect of climate change. It refers to the rise in global temperatures mainly due to the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

For years, there has been a debate on who to blame for the unprecedented rise of global temperatures. Tons of reports and studies then came up with the conclusion that humans are responsible for all of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fifth assessment report showed that human emissions and activities have caused 100% of the warming observed since 1950. 

The report added that “extremely likely that more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature” from 1951 to 2010 was caused by human activity. By “extremely likely,” they meant that there was between a 95% and 100% probability that more than half of modern warming was due to humans. Dr. Gavin Schmidt from NASA emphasized that humans could be responsible for around 110%, ranging from 72% to 146%, of observed warming with natural factors in isolation responsible for a slight cooling over the past 50 years.

Another study published in Environmental Research Letters revealed that global surface temperatures warmed about 0.65 degrees Celsius between 1951-2010. During the same period, statistics showed that humans caused 0.67 ± 0.12 degrees Celsius warming, while natural factors had essentially no effect on global temperatures with -0.01 ± 0.02 degrees Celsius. According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, this study adds to the mountain of evidence pointing to humans as the primary cause of global warming. 

“The main outcome of this study is to develop a new method that deals with uncertainty in a more comprehensive way. By using this new method, we hope to further narrow the uncertainty in past and future greenhouse gas-induced warming in the near future,” lead author Aurélien Ribes said. 

Fortunately, more and more people are becoming concerned about the status of our planet with the increasing rise of global warming. A 2018 survey by Yale and George Mason University researchers showed that 63% of Americans said global warming is personally important to them and 61% believe that climate change is affecting weather in the US. A similar survey revealed that 62% of Americans are very or somewhat concerned that climate change will personally affect them or a member of their family. 

However, this doesn’t change the fact that global warming directly affects our planet and all living organisms. Even our biodiversity hotspots, biogeographic regions that serve as an important reservoir of biodiversity, are heavily affected by the phenomenon.

What are Biodiversity Hotspots?

Our planet is filled with rich land surfaces and forests home to the world’s wildlife called biodiversity hotspots. Humans also rely on these places for their survival. While biodiversity hotspots make up about 2.3% of Earth’s land surface, about 44% of the world’s plants and 35% of land vertebrates live in these regions. Most of the plants that live there are endemic, which means they are not found anywhere else on Earth. However, since biodiversity hotspots are so rich, they are also prone to destructive human activities.

The term “biodiversity hotspots” came from British ecologist Norman Myers in his 1988 study. These regions were characterized both by exceptional levels of plant endemism and serious levels of habitat loss. A region must have lost at least 70% of its original natural vegetation, usually due to human activity, to be classified as a biodiversity hotspot. According to National Geographic, an American pay television network and flagship channel that is owned by National Geographic Partners, there are over 30 recognized biodiversity hotspots in the world.

Additionally, biodiversity hotspots are home to thousands of irreplaceable species that are facing multiple, urgent threats. It’s important that these regions are protected because millions of humans rely directly on healthy ecosystems for their livelihood and well-being. They provide crucial ecosystem services for human life, including the provision of clean water, climate regulation, and pollination. 

Global Warming’s Impact on Biodiversity Hotspots

Scientists have relied on biodiversity hotspots to save us from global warming and climate change. But, it turns out, they remain susceptible to the impacts of rising global temperatures. A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change discovered that polar and tropical regions that foster the planet’s richest biodiversity are the most vulnerable to future impacts of climate change. 

Alarmingly, these biodiversity hotspots have been providing refuge for species during climatic upheavals, while also enabling existing organisms to prosper and new lineages to spawn. Senior author Damien Fordham from the University of Adelaide stated that the accelerated impacts of human-driven climate change stand to uproot this protection. “More than 75% of the area of these climate-safe havens will be lost in the near future due to 21st-century warming, negatively affecting biodiversity – particularly in tropical regions and the world’s biodiversity hotspots,” he said. 

The researchers analyzed global land and ocean temperatures and rainfall for the past 21,000 years in this study. After that, they examined the impact of adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere under two scenarios: first, a scenario to represent very high emissions and second, one with much lower levels of emissions. While the team hopes that these regions would have stable climates in the long run, they also worry that there would be a shift from stable to unstable. 

Assoc. Prof Damien Fordham, a global change ecologist at the University of Adelaide and a co-author of the research, stated that species in these biodiversity hotspots tend to be adapted to survive within a very narrow temperature and climate boundaries. But, human-caused climate change would happen too fast that it seems impossible for species to evolve or move. 

“Here we see really strong direct evidence of how climate change could have really adverse effects in the tropics that harbor the highest places for biodiversity on the plane,” Fordham said. 

Thus, it’s important that we address the needs of our biodiversity hotspots and make sure that the regions and wildlife are protected.