Scientists have long understood that climate change has an effect on the numbers and distribution of animal species, but exactly how big an impact and why has remained largely speculative, until now.
New research shows that the American pika, the mountain-dwelling relative of the rabbit roughly half as big as a football, began rapidly fleeing lower elevations and dying off in the Great Basin region of the U.S. West a decade ago.
The change coincides with the time frame when human-generated greenhouse gas emissions began to leave a massive imprint on climate and sea levels, scientists say, and the implications are considerable for a multitude of species.
“The rules of the extinction game have changed,” said Erik Beever, a research ecologist at the U.S. Geologic Survey’s Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Montana and lead author of the peer-reviewed paper, which will soon be published in the print edition of the journal Global Change Biology.
“Typically, species have been endangered by habitat loss, exploitation and hunting, and to a lesser degree invasive species,” Beever told SolveClimate News. “In the case of the pikas, none of these are the issue.”
Beever and his colleagues recorded more extreme temperatures and less precipitation at sites where the rabbit-like critters are going extinct than at those where they are thriving. Higher highs and lower lows consistent with global warming models could have made the pint-sized pikas more susceptible to disease, heat stress or predation, Beever said.
Read more at Reuters.
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