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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jul 26;108(30):12337-42. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1017352108. Epub 2011 Jul 11.

Recent ecological responses to climate change support predictions of high extinction risk.

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  • 1Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, Penryn TR10 9EZ, UK.


Predicted effects of climate change include high extinction risk for many species, but confidence in these predictions is undermined by a perceived lack of empirical support. Many studies have now documented ecological responses to recent climate change, providing the opportunity to test whether the magnitude and nature of recent responses match predictions. Here, we perform a global and multitaxon metaanalysis to show that empirical evidence for the realized effects of climate change supports predictions of future extinction risk. We use International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria as a common scale to estimate extinction risks from a wide range of climate impacts, ecological responses, and methods of analysis, and we compare predictions with observations. Mean extinction probability across studies making predictions of the future effects of climate change was 7% by 2100 compared with 15% based on observed responses. After taking account of possible bias in the type of climate change impact analyzed and the parts of the world and taxa studied, there was less discrepancy between the two approaches: predictions suggested a mean extinction probability of 10% across taxa and regions, whereas empirical evidence gave a mean probability of 14%. As well as mean overall extinction probability, observations also supported predictions in terms of variability in extinction risk and the relative risk associated with broad taxonomic groups and geographic regions. These results suggest that predictions are robust to methodological assumptions and provide strong empirical support for the assertion that anthropogenic climate change is now a major threat to global biodiversity.

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