By Hannah Devlin
Alarming predictions that climate change will lead to the extinction of hundreds of species may be exaggerated, according to Oxford scientists.
They say that many biodiversity forecasts have not taken into account the complexities of the landscape and frequently underestimate the ability of plants and animals to adapt to changes in their environment.
â€œThe evidence of climate change-driven extinctions have really been overplayed,â€ said Professor Kathy Willis, a long-term ecologist at the University of Oxford and lead author of the article.
Professor Willis warned that alarmist reports were leading to ill-founded biodiversity policies in government and some major conservation groups. She said that climate change has become a â€œbuzz wordâ€ that is taking priority while, in practice, changes in human use of land have a greater impact on the survival of species. â€œIâ€™m certainly not a climate change denier, far from it, but we have to have sound policies for managing our ecosystems,â€ she said.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature backed the article, saying that climate change is â€œfar from the number-one threatâ€ to the survival of most species. â€œThere are so many other immediate threats that, by the time climate change really kicks in, many species will not exist any more,â€ said Jean Christophe Vie, deputy head of the IUCN species program, which is responsible for compiling the international Redlist of endangered species.
He listed hunting, overfishing, and destruction of habitat by humans as more critical for the majority of species.
However, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds disagreed, saying that climate change was the single biggest threat to biodiversity on the planet. â€œThereâ€™s an absolutely undeniable affect thatâ€™s happening now,â€ said John Clare, an RSPB spokesman. â€œThere have been huge declines in British sea birds.â€
The article, published today in the journal Science, reviews recent research on climate change and biodiversity, arguing that many simulations are not sufficiently detailed to give accurate predictions.
In particular, the landscape is often described at very low resolution, not taking into account finer variations in vegetation and altitude that are vital predictors for biodiversity.