The Hot Zone

Species may experience survival ‘tipping points’ at high temperatures

Posted by Alison Hawkes on October 20, 2010
Category : Climate Science and Scientists

Some species seem to be taking climate change really hard, while others appear to be skating through it with little impact.

But looks can be deceiving. As temperatures continue to rise, resilient species may, too, find themselves under too much change to survive. A new study published in the recent journal Nature explores how Arctic and alpine species are coping.

Moss campion is vulnerable to high temperatures in the Rockies. Photo: Ben K on Picasa

Ecologists Daniel Doak from the University of Wyoming and William Morris from Duke University conducted a long term study of plants in the high altitudes of Colorado and New Mexico and along the Alaskan coastline. They found a complex set of responses to temperature increases. Survival was poor, in many cases along the most drastic extremes of the southern edges. But that negative response was somewhat offset by faster plant growth.

The scientists don’t believe that the two patterns cancel each other out. They found that extreme cold and warm years do not create the conditions for rapid growth.

They believe there’s quite possible a tipping point in which survival will overwhelmingly fall off. The tipping point will be different for each species and their responses will be sudden.

The lesson is that even if a species seems to be okay for the moment, there’s likely a breaking point at some higher, undetermined temperature.

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