Predicting and managing the impacts of extreme climatic events on biodiversity

Underwater photo of a coral reef, many of which are colourless, with small black fish swimming above

Current increases in global temperatures are leading to changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events. Such changes may have detrimental consequences for the Earth’s biota, potentially leading to catastrophic mortality events; increased vulnerability to habitat loss and overexploitation; local extinctions; and in extreme cases, ecosystem collapse. ZSL is working with partners to improve our ability to predict which species and ecosystems may be vulnerable to extreme climatic events in the near future, to support prioritization efforts.

Why we are there

The viability of species and ecosystems are increasingly threatened by climate change. A recent analysis for example showed that ~6% of the worlds’ terrestrial mammals are ‘significantly’ exposed to cyclones and ~23% to droughts. At present, the potential vulnerability of species to extreme climatic events is not considered when assessing extinction risk. Similarly, our understanding of the risks that increased climatic events pose to ecosystem functioning remains limited.

Impact

 Our work is expected to provide an insight into vulnerability to extreme climatic events for a variety of species and ecosystems. So far, we have focussed on mammals, savannahs, tropical forests and mangroves, but our aim is to help develop standard assessment approaches and to identify critical information needs.

Project Information

People involved 

Nathalie Pettorelli, Institute of Zoology
Guy Cowlishaw, Institute of Zoology
Sarah Durant, Institute of Zoology

Partners & Sponsors

Partners: University College London, UK; University of Veracruz, Mexico; Chinese Academy of Sciences, China

News & Blog links

https://phys.org/news/2012-12-disaster-bleak-future-mammals.html