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New paper: The effect of the past on climate change


Changes in climate that occur over short periods of time influence biodiversity. For a realistic assessment of these effects, it is necessary to also consider previous temperature trends going far back into Earth's history. Researchers from the University Bayreuth and the University Erlangen-Nuremberg found that the effect of climate change on biodiversity is dependent on the climate history. If a long-lasting cooling is intensified by a subsequent short-term cooling, the climate-related extinction risk of organism can increase by up to 40 percent.

The research team led by Bayreuth ecologist Prof. Dr. Manuel Steinbauer analysed data on eight different groups of marine and terrestrial animals. The paper, published this week in “Nature Ecology and Evolution“, describes a new statistical approach to understand the fossil record. One of the key findings of the study was that the extent to which short-term temperature changes affect extinction risk depends largely on the context of geographic and climatic history. However, the studie does not only provide insights to Earth‘s past. The decribed effect could mitigate the climate-related biodiversity crisis.  Human-induced global warming that began with the industrial age might not threaten global biodiversity as much as some predictions assume. However, the researchers do not give the all-clear. More research is needed to support the findings and to integrate the effect in current biodiversity conservation projects.

The research team from Bayreuth and Erlangen is part of the research group TERSANE („Temperature-Related Stresses as a Unifying Principle in Ancient Extinctions“), in which scientists from all over Germany use fossil evidence to research climate-related extinctions.  Gregor Mathes M.Sc. was the first author of the study.

You can read the press release for the paper here: https://www.uni-bayreuth.de/en/university/press/press-releases/2021/008-climate-change-extinct-risk/index.html. A summary of the findings can be found in a blog post written for the “Nature Ecology and Evolution community“: https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/even-the-past-has-a-history-how-climate-change-legacies-drive-extinction-risk-in-the-fossil-record

Gregor H. Mathes, Jeroen van Dijk, Wolfgang Kiessling, Manuel J. Steinbauer: Extinction risk controlled by interaction of long-term and short-term climate change. Nature Ecology and Evolution (2021), DOI: 10.1038/s41559-020-01377-w.

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