Nature has been reacting to climate change by altering behaviour and movement. For example, with the winters getting warmer, flowers change their flowering period and owls develop darker body colour. However, whether plants and animals will be able to adjust quickly enough to survive the changing temperature remains uncertain.
The latest research indicated that in the past, plants and animals reacted to environmental changes by adapting, migrating or going extinct. Findings of the paper point to radical changes in biodiversity due to climate change in the future.
Professor David Bravo-Nogues, lead-author of a new study, said, "We compiled an enormous amount of studies of events, which we know influenced biodiversity during the past million years. It turns out, species have been able to survive new conditions in their habitat by changing either their behaviour or body shape. However, the current magnitude and unseen speed of change in nature may push species beyond their ability to adapt".
Until now, scientists thought species' main reaction to climatic changes was to move. However, the new study shows that local adaptation to new conditions seems to have played a key role in the way species survived. Species adapt when the whole population change, for example, when all owls get darker body colour. This happens slowly over a long period of time, the study's co-author, Stephen Jackson, elaborated.
While animals and plants have prevented extinction by adapting or migrating in the past, the models used today to predict future climate change foresee magnitudes and rates of change, which have been exceptionally rare in the last million years.
The study suggested that we need to expand our knowledge and improve our prediction models. There is a need to recognise the limitations of the models because they are used to inform politicians and decision-makers about the effects of climate change on biodiversity.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Trends in Ecology and Evolution.