At Home in Nature

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The effect of climate change on trees

In their Consequences of climate change on the tree of life in Europe (24 February 2011, VOL 470 NATURE pg 531), the Doctors Wilfried Thuiller, Sebastien Lavergne, Cristina Roquet, Isabelle Boulangeat, Bruno Lafourcade & Miguel. B. Araujo report that climate change will effect some species of trees more than others, resulting in dramatic changes to the ecology as ecosystems become redefined by different trees. “Reductions in phylogenetic diversity will be greater in southern Europe, and gains are expected in regions of high latitude or altitude. However, losses will not be offset by gains and the tree of life faces a trend towards homogenization across the continent.” The Doctors say that “Climatic tolerances vary across species, causing some species to be more vulnerable to climate change than others. Because climate tolerances are not randomly distributed across phylogenies, species sensitivities to climate change are expected to be clustered along the phylogeny. It follows that if vulnerable species are closely related, shared internal branches of the tree of life have higher risks of collapsing.” Their estimates for changes in phylogenetic diversity versus scenarios of random extinction for plants, birds and mammals (graphs, above) demonstrate 2 scenarios: a, Emission scenario A1F1; b, emission scenario B1. The grey area is the quantile range of projected phylogenetic diversity due to range contraction (from 2020 onward), randomly scattered across the sample of trees.
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