Climate Change is forcing plants and animals to move away from their natural habitat towards higher elevations where its cooler about three times faster than scientists previously thought.
Researchers in Britain looked at the effects of temperature on approximately 2,000 species of plants, animals and insects and found that species undergoing the greatest warming have moved the furthest. The results are published in the journal Science, and have helped to reinforce what scientists have long been saying — that there is a link between climate change and shifts in species' global ranges.
The researchers studied species across Europe, North and South America and Malaysia over the last 40 years, in order to show that organisms that experience the greatest change in temperatures move the fastest. On average organisms are shifting their home ranges at a rate of 17 km per decade away from the equator, researchers found. Organisms also moved uphill by about 1m a year.
Scientists have said the warming climate would cause animals to head for the poles.
The animals seems to either be following food or, because their bodies are made for certain temperature or precipitation, they leave as the conditions in their traditional homes become more intolerable. The British comma butterfly, for example, has moved 220km northward from central England to southern Scotland in the last two decades, the BBC reported.
Conservation Biologist Chris Thomas, from the University of York in the UK, led the study and he told the BBC that there is also evidence that more species seem to be moving up mountains than downward. But studies had stopped short of showing that rising temperatures are responsible for these shifts in range, he added, until his team made the connection.
Seeing that species are able to keep up with the warming is a very positive finding, said biologist Terry Root from Stanford University in California, US, to the BBC. She added that it seemed that species were able to seek out cooler habitats as long as there was not an obstacle in their way, like a highway.
Thomas said animals that already live at the poles, or at the top of mountains die.
One example is the polar bear, which lives off the ice.
Recent studies have shown that because the ice is melting in their habit, polar bears are embarking on longer journey, and some are dying along the way.
July 2011 marked the lowest Arctic ice cover ever recorded.
As for farmers, the crops they grow and livestock they keep is also shifting due to changes in temperature but also shifts in rainfall patterns, Philip Thornton, an agricultural economist with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, told USA Today.
The USA Today articles stated that in Africa, small farms are changing the kinds of animals they keep.
Thornton told the paper that he is hearing anecdotal evidence of farmers switching from cattle to goats, because they're more resilient. In Northern Kenya, there is a move in some places away from the traditional cattle to camels, which are more drought resistant, Thornton, who is affiliated with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, said.
Thomas told the BBC that it was really too early to start generalising about the characteristics of the species that had shifted their distribution to stay within their optimal temperature range.
But we know that the species which have expanded the most and fastest are the species that are not particularly fussy about where they live, Thomas told the BBC.
Watch the video below of Thomas giving more details.