UM research: Mountain environments more vulnerable to climate change than previously reported

August 01, 2016

MISSOULA, Montana - New research by University of Montana forest landscape ecology Professor Solomon Dobrowski shows that organisms will face more hardships as they relocate when climate change makes their current homes uninhabitable.

Dobrowski and co-author Sean Parks -- a scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Aldo Leopold Research Institute and a UM alumnus -- propose a new method to model how fast and where organisms will need to move to keep pace with climate change.

Mountains support roughly a quarter of the globe's terrestrial biodiversity, contain about a third of its protected areas and house nearly half of the world's biodiversity hotspots. One reason for this biodiversity is that complex topography within mountains creates diverse climates within close proximity to one another.

One way scientists measure how vulnerable a site is to climate change is to estimate how far organisms at that site need to move to maintain a consistent temperature as the Earth warms. The diversity of climates in mountain landscapes means that when temperatures rise, organisms might have to only move a short distance to get to a cooler home.

However, Dobrowksi and Parks show that measuring the0 distance from one area of suitable climate to the next doesn't account for the resistance organisms will encounter as they traverse areas with very different climates, like a warm valley between two mountain peaks.

"It's not enough to just measure how far an organism will have to move in order to keep up with climate change," Dobrowski said. "We also need to look at how much organisms will be exposed to dissimilar climates along the way. Once we do that, we find that even short movements in mountainous areas expose organisms to large climate differences. This may prevent plants and animals from being able to maintain a suitable climate as the earth warms."

Dobrowski and Parks suggest that areas within mountains are more climatically isolated and thus more vulnerable to climate change than previously reported.
-end-
Their paper "Climate change velocity underestimates climate change exposure in mountainous regions" was published Aug. 1 in Nature Communications. It is available online at http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160801/ncomms12349/full/ncomms12349.html.

The University of Montana

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.