Climate Change Is Already Altering the World’s Gene Pool

The dire impact of human-caused climate change on ecosystems, species, and public health is already well under way, a landmark study published Friday in the journal Science warns.

The study authors analyzed an array of studies showing how climate change is altering the world around us and concluded that the planet’s warming has interfered with more than 80 percent of biological processes, including genetics, body mass, sex ratios, and productivity.


“Climate change has already impacted almost all aspects of life on Earth,” lead author Brett Scheffers, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida, said in an email.

These changes have occurred after an average global temperature increase of just 1 degree Celsius since preindustrial times. Experts predict that the planet might see 2- to 3-degree-Celsius warming by the end of the century.

It was the first time scientists had analyzed and described all of these changes in their entirety.

“Our paper is unique in that we compiled published case studies showing evidence of climate change responses observed in nature,” Scheffers said. “There are literally thousands of scientific studies on climate change, spanning disciplines from physical to chemical to biological sciences. The power of our research is that it is not a single voice saying climate change is impacting nature but rather a collective voice of research from around the globe, all showing responses to climate change.”

“These processes span from the smallest unit of genetics to the largest biological unit of communities and ecosystems,” Scheffers said.

The authors identified a set of “core ecological processes” (32 in terrestrial and 31 each in marine and freshwater ecosystems) that allow for ecosystem functioning and support services to people.

“Of the 94 processes considered, 82 percent show evidence of impact from climate change,” they wrote.

Many species are experiencing shrinking body size. For example, six species of salamanders in the Appalachian Mountains have lost, on average, 8 percent of their body mass over the past 50 years.

Other physical changes include decreased thermoregulation and altered wing and bill length in birds.

Temperate plants are budding and flowering earlier in spring and later in autumn, the paper said, while fish spawning and the timing of seasonal migrations of animals around the world have also been observed.

“Tropical and boreal species are increasingly incorporated into temperate and polar communities, respectively, and when possible, lowland species are increasingly assimilating into mountain communities,” the researchers wrote.

These radical changes are affecting humans as well as plants and animals.

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