The world’s tropical regions are home to the widest range of plants andanimals, but research from The University of Queensland reveals that climatechange is pushing species away, and fast.

UQ ARC Future Fellow Dr Tatsuya Amano led an international team that reviewedmore than 1.3 million records of waterbird species, and found temperatureincrease is drastically affecting species abundance in the tropics.

Dr Amano said the findings showed climate change continued to post a seriousthreat to biodiversity.

“There’s an urgent need to understand how species respond to changing climateson a global scale,” Dr Amano said.

“Earlier global reviews have rarely included species and studies in thetropics – being largely conducted in Europe, North America, Australia and theArctic.

“As a result, although tropical species have long been predicted to be morevulnerable to increasing temperature, there was little empirical evidence onhow climate change really affects species abundance in the tropics.”

The team reviewed records collected by volunteer counters from theInternational Waterbird Census and Christmas Bird Count since 1990 and foundthat 69 per cent of the tropical species show, on average, negative responsesto temperature increases.

“The global dataset of waterbird abundance is the fruit of invaluable, long-term survey efforts in over 100 countries and covers regions for which thereis little information on climate change impacts,” Dr Amano said.

“Waterbirds can be observed relatively easily, offering an early proxy forclimate change impacts on other species.

“They help us assess the status of biodiversity in wetland ecosystems, whichhas been lost at higher rates than other ecosystems.”

Dr Amano said he hoped this evidence would help strengthen the case for realaction on a warming climate.

“Large species shifts and loss can have serious consequences not only forbiodiversity, but also for human well-being,” he said.

“Our findings are a step forward, but it would be great to see this areareceive more research attention, especially in the tropics.

“Further studies could provide crucial evidence for a more effectiveallocation of limited resources for the conservation of species and ecosystemsmost threatened by climate change, and for assessing how these changes inbiodiversity may affect human societies.”

The research has been published in Nature Climate Change (DOI:10.1038/s41558-020-0872-3).

Images: 1. The lesser flamingo (Phoeniconaias minor) is a species of flamingooccurring in sub-Saharan Africa, with another population in India. Credit:Sergey Dereliev.

Image: 2. The painted stork (Mycteria leucocephala) is a large wader in thestork family, found in the wetlands of the plains of tropical Asia. Credit:Saketh Upadhya.

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