One in Six Species Could Go Extinct With Climate Change

By K. N. Smith | April 30, 2015 1:00 pm


If climate change continues on its current track, one out of every six species on Earth could be at risk of extinction.

That’s the conclusion of a new meta-analysis of 131 published studies, looking at everything from Costa Rica’s insects to Arctic foxes to California oak trees. The study is one of the most comprehensive surveys of how biodiversity will fare in a warmer climate. It found that the rate of biodiversity loss doesn’t rise linearly but actually accelerates with each degree of warming – highlighting the need for an urgent change of course.

Combining Models

The basic premise behind these studies is that climate change reduces the geographic range in which a species can live, and that loss of living space can drive a species to extinction. “Species were predicted to become extinct if their range fell below a minimum threshold,” explained author Mark Urban in the paper published in Science.

But each study had developed its own model for that process. For instance, they assumed different rates of climate change, and they defined different amounts of range loss as fatal for a species. Urban used statistical methods to combine the data from all of the studies to work out likely extinction rates for different scenarios, like more or less global warming, or higher or lower thresholds of range loss.

Predicting Extinctions

Based on predictions about range loss in the 131 studies, 2.8 percent of the world’s species are now at risk. A 2⁰ C increase in global average temperature (compared to pre-industrial levels) would put 5.2 percent of species at risk. Some political leaders around the world have set a goal of limiting global warming to 2⁰ C, though most climate experts now doubt that that goal remains within reach.

At 3⁰ C, Urban’s model predicts that 8.5 percent of the world’s species would face extinction. But 3⁰ C is still pretty optimistic. The current rate of climate change puts the world’s temperatures on track to increase 4.3⁰ C by the 2060s, which Urban says would put 16 percent of species at risk for extinction. That would mean the loss of about 1 species out of every 6 in the world today by around the middle of this century.

According to Urban’s analysis, the regions hardest hit will be South America, Australia, and New Zealand. In a world that is 4.3⁰ C warmer by mid-century, South America could lose 23 percent of its species. Australia and New Zealand could lose 14% of their species.

Credit: achiaos/ Shutterstock

Credit: achiaos/ Shutterstock

Risk Factors

Why are these regions so vulnerable? They’re home to many endemic species, species which live only in one place, which already have very small ranges. Any loss of range could have a big impact on a species which only calls one very small area home. And because Australia and New Zealand are isolated from other landmasses, most of their endemic species can’t move to another habitat even if one existed.

The new study highlights how crucial such dispersal ability is many species’ future survival. As rising temperatures make one habitat unlivable for a species, it may also open up new habitats where the climate wasn’t suitable before. Species who can migrate to those new habitats will have better chances, but species trapped by natural or man-made barriers will be in dire trouble.

Other factors, which many of the studies don’t take into account, can influence a species’ response to climate change. For instance, the risk of extinction is lower for species which can evolve quickly enough to adapt to changing environments, which usually means species with short generations. Interaction between species, such as predation or symbiosis, could shift the odds either way, depending on the interaction. Invasive species, overharvesting, and pollution also increase extinction risks.

Urban told Discover, “These predictions need not be realized if greenhouse gas emissions are controlled and we do not follow the current trajectory in global temperatures — or if conservation measures are put in place that are effective at limiting losses.”


Top image by Melinda Fawver/ Shutterstock

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
  • Glenn

    I hope the climate alarmists are one of the species!

    • Mike Richardson

      Brilliant, insightful, illuminating comment. Just what I come on a science blog to read.

      • Glenn

        Obviously if you came to read about global warming you came for propaganda. No sarcasm intended!

        • Mike Richardson

          I came to read about science. So, now science is propaganda, eh? I get it, science is propaganda, ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery. Keep those nice Orwellian memes going, dude.

          • OWilson

            The problem is that this article is not science, despite the “131 studies” purported to support it.

            It belongs with “Global Warming Turns Rainforest Leaves into Junk Food”.

            You can’t tell the difference, is all. :)

          • Mike Richardson

            I’m quite aware of the difference. Some species are certainly more at risk from a changing climate, and it’s from surveys of those groups that the one-in-six figure was derived. The other blog article, on the other hand, was one I readily agree made a statement which was completely unsupported by any facts when it noted in the body of the article that the change in nutritional value from foliage could be attributed to any number of other factors. It’s more speculative than an after-the-fact accounting of already extinct species (a number we’ve unfortunately added to at an increasing rate in the past few centuries), but based on an understanding of the habitat requirements of existing species and the easily observed fact that changing climate is altering those habitats. That you do not accept it does not mean it isn’t scientific in nature. Or did someone forget to tell me and statistics and probability got dropped from the scientific and mathematic disciplines? But at least you’ve provided your basis for disagreeing with the article, rather than a simple “it’s propaganda” declaration without any attempt at support. Good evening, Wilson.

          • OWilson

            “The current rate of climate change puts the world’s temperatures on track to increase 4.3⁰ C by the 2060s, which Urban says would put 16 percent of species at risk for extinction. That would mean the loss of about 1 species out of every 6 in the world today by around the middle of this century.”

            Don’t make me laugh!

            The “world’s temperatures” are NOT on track to increase 4.3 degrees by 2060. (NOAA)

            That in itself should give you low info voters pause.

            And one in six extinction rate would be a mass extinction event (Smithsonian), and in just 45 years, by 2060, yet! Lol

            The biggest mass extinction event, the “Permian” took some 100,000.00 years.

            You are all nutcases!

          • Arthur Smith

            Just because it’s horrendous, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. That’s not a logical argument. People said the same thing about the holocaust, and that’s despite all the documentaries and photo evidence.

          • OWilson

            Every thing is possible, my friend, when common sense is allowed to be subjugated to political correctness of the current Order.

            The right to dissent, is the first casualty of totalitarianism.

          • Mike Richardson

            So who’s stopping you from dissenting? Dissent away. And I’ll dissent with your dissenting (see, disagreeing with your free expression doesn’t limit it, it’s just an exercise of my own free expression). Yep, we’re all just dissenting, left and right. :)

          • OWilson

            It was just a warning.

            To folks who don’t understand how a society can go from tolerance to genocide in one short generation.

            Just a sampling:

            An Undead Kennedy: “Besides the usual suspects of ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, Kennedy offers a preliminary list of groups that he thinks deserve execution”

            Jail politicians who ignore climate science: Suzuki

            RIT Professor: Climate Change Deniers Are Criminals

            Paul Krugman, NYT accused Congressmen who voted against climate cap-and-trade bill of ‘treason against the planet!’

            Heroic fighters? Or just plain totalitarians?

            Choose wisely, my friend! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            I’m not a low info voter, Wilson. If that were the case, I’d probably agree with you more and vote Republican. Good evening to you.

          • OWilson

            I’m sure you are very happy with your choice! :)

            Hillary for 2016!!

          • Mike Richardson

            Actually, I am pretty happy with my choice — Bernie Sanders, baby! (Well, at least in the primary — he’s probably got as much chance in the general election as either Rand or Ron Paul). If she makes it into the general election, as expected, Hillary will just be the lesser of two evils, I’m afraid. But maybe Sanders might push her a little further left, which would be an improvement. :)

          • OWilson

            At least your comments here begin to make sense now :)

          • Mike Richardson

            They actually make sense most of the time. Glad you’re beginning to see that. See, you’re never too old to learn. Keep it real, man.

          • No-Mo-BO

            Well learn this: the first ‘global warming’ sensors and detectors were intentionally placed in closed sheds, on top of buildings in the sun and at he take-off end of airport runways in line with the jet exhaust…documented FACTS.

          • Mike Richardson

            Umm, documented by whom? Conspiracy theory guy on the Obama’s a Kenyan Muslim Communist blog? LOL… I mean, if it’s a fact, please share. I love facts, at least as long as they’re actual facts, and not “new facts.” Well, this should be entertaining, at least.

          • OWilson

            You’re a good little soldier, we had a lot like you in Europe where I came from.

            Dude! :)

          • Mike Richardson

            I’ve never really been that good at following orders, and I frequently disagree with dogma on my side of the political spectrum, too. You, on the other hand, do seem to have a very inflexible and rigid adherence to far right ideology. I get that you probably saw some bad things from people on the far left when you were younger, but don’t you think you might have overcompensated just a bit? Self-reflection and moderation can be a good, thing, you know. Have a good weekend.

          • OWilson

            Moderation is not a good thing when confronting folks who consider me mentally deficient, a historic denier, criminal, traitor, or worse for not rubber stamping and falling into lockstep with their religious and political dedication to the latest doomsday propaganda. (It was supposed to be here now, but the truck broke down, or the dog ate the heat, or it’s just “hiding” from y’all) Lol

            If that’s “overcompensating” then so be it.

            You can relax. At least you’re part of the 97% :)

          • Mike Richardson

            Sorry you feel that way. I’ve found it’s quite possible to disagree with someone without necessarily believing any of those things. It would be quite dull if we all agreed, all of the time. Good evening, sir. :)

          • Paul Griese

            If you think you know so much more than anybody, then get published and debate the professional scientists instead of posting in comment sections. Confront the pros, the ones who actually do the work, and try telling them they are wrong. Otherwise, you are wasting your time, and this “wisdom” that you think you have, will be for naught. Get an article published. Show the world your research and work, or just fade away like the rest of the Global Warming Deniers. Your group is getting smaller and smaller. The evidence continues to overwhelm you and all you can do now is deny or cling to couple of stats that you hope will support your shaky stance.

          • OWilson

            The science is settled. Nobody needs my research.
            I only post scientific data from your side of the aisle, IPCC, NOAA and NSIDC. without cherry picking or “interpreting”.
            The charts I post are updated daily by their agencies.
            It is NOT MY DATA, get it?
            So, when you attack my posts, you are attacking your own science.
            It is fun to see, and that’s why I do it, but I wonder how you miss the irony.
            That’s why I refer to most of you as low info voters.
            An example above: I post the findings of IPCC, NOAA and NSIDC, as is, and you attack their valuable work as ” a couple of stats”.

          • Glenn

            When its bogus science its propaganda!

          • Mike Richardson

            And why is it bogus? Please, details, citations, research, anything that supports your 1-2 sentence declarations? Or maybe you’d like to misinterpret some graphs for us. 😉

          • Glenn

            You mean like Mann’s Cherrie picked hockey stick graph?

          • Mike Richardson

            Nope. Didn’t think you would. Opinion without factual basis, it is, then. Nice talk.

          • Ernesto Franklin

            That’s all you alarmists have, worse faith based swill than your average religious fanatic….

          • Mike Richardson

            That’s cute how you confuse science with religion. But you know better than most of the scientists studying the earth’s climate, and that’s not a matter of faith in your superior reasoning? Must be nice to live in a reality of your own choosing, at least until actual reality comes crashing in. Have fun for now. :)

          • No-Mo-BO

            How about the cops are the bad guys and the criminals are victims, Muslims are misunderstood and Christians are the problem, Obama and Shrillary are so transparent you can read the Constitution through them…

          • Mike Richardson

            Wow, they just keep getting better and better. Is it a full moon or something? Lol… good stuff.

  • OWilson

    It is estimated that 99.9% of species that ever existed became extinct.

    So the proposition, “IF climate change continues on its current track, ONE out of every SIX species on Earth COULD be at RISK of extinction”. Is more junk alarmist science which cannot be falsified.

    And a very expensive example of failed Bayesian reasoning to boot. Who pays for this stuff?

    But it’s something to pin up in the classroom. (Note the obligatory sad polar bear photo)


    • OWilson

      Seems the photo of the dead polar bear has been removed.


    • Carmen4697


  • The History Man

    May not be global warming yet, but what has happened to the cuckoo in the UK? Never hear one any more. And the swallow numbers are decimated here in France. Haven’t seen a red squirrel for two years. The kingfishers we had here have disappeared completely. Something is happening, folks and it is NOT good. All these species are already under tremendous pressure and climate change will be making things far, far worse.

  • JWrenn

    These forums are very sad

  • Jerome

    Everyday I walk past these flower hedges that 5-6 years ago used be full of bees. Now, hardly any.

  • Wtg Mf

    By rights the human species should be one of them. Then the other species can all survive.

  • Ernesto Franklin

    Ninety nine percent of all species that ever lived on Earth were extinct before the dawn of man, most likely most disappearances were caused by climate change. Its natural, for God’s sake!

  • Andrew

    The earth climate changes with the cycles of the sun. Where was global warming in the dust bowl days ? God is in control. Genesis 8:22 “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

  • Paul Griese

    A Global Warming Denier is simply someone who has not been affect by it……yet.

    • No-Mo-BO

      So, 98% of humans…right?

  • No-Mo-BO

    Like I posted to PopSci…Climate change is a hoax dreamed up by Al Gore to sell ‘carbon credits’ to idiots through a company HE owns most of the stock in and global warming ‘scientists’ are his paid shills.

    • Mike Richardson

      I thought they closed the comments section because of folks like you — you know, those that actually had a problem with the science aspect of the website. 😉 At least you can rant away here, right? Or cry, like your avatar. Good one, btw.

  • bigbad_42

    Yep, one in six species COULD be at risk from climate change. That is a misleading but true statement. Actually all life could be at risk if climate changed drastically enough. Thousands of new species COULD evolve as a result of climate change. An equally true statement. It’s been happening since life evolved on this planet.

    Climate change is happening. Another true statement. It’s been happening since the earth formed.

    Humans are affecting climate change…Only true if you can figure out how to tax them for it…Otherwise, it’s a completely natural occurrence. Please send the tax bill to (God, Mother Nature, The Creator, Allah, or whoever) and leave me out of it.


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