Within 50 years, the world’s most endangered cat will be extinct unless conservation efforts are updated to combat the effects of climate change, according to a new study.
The Iberian lynx, a bobcat native to Spain and Portugal, has been threatened for years by humans' over-hunting of their primary food source, rabbits. But climate change may also be an aggravating factor, according to Miguel Araújo of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, Spain.
“We show that anticipated climate change will rapidly and severely decrease lynx abundance and probably lead to its extinction in the wild within 50 years, even with strong global efforts to mitigate greenhouse-gas emissions,” he and his colleagues wrote in the July 21 edition of the journal Nature Climate Change. The study modeled the impact of rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns on habitat for lynxes and rabbits.
Scientists attribute these changes to its limited food source and fragmented grassland-and-forest mixed habitat, the Agence France-Press reports.
Araújo points to “management plans” that can potentially save the lynx from extinction. One of the programs involved releasing into the wild about 20 to 40 lynxes that were bred in captivity. The study suggests that this model only be used in “top-quality habitats” north of Spain and Portugal that have the least fragmentation because that would offer the best chance of survival. To date, $130 million has been invested in protecting the 250 surviving lynx, RedOrbit reports.
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Araújo refers to climate change as an increase in global temperature by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Warmer temperatures and less rain means less herbs available for rabbits to eat. This will wipe out the rabbit and lynx population by the end of the century, Araújo says.
"One the one hand, conservation is demanding changes in the whole economy, less carbon emissions," Araújo told LiveScience. "But when they have a program, they usually forget about climate change."