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Study Finds Climate Change Occurring 10,000 Times Faster Than Evolution Rate

July 28, 2013; 8:34 AM ET

A new study finds that many vertebrate species will have to speed up their ability to evolve by 10,000 times to adapt to global warming.

The scientists observed when species split into new species based on genetic data, which is a measure of their rate of evolution.

John Wiens, an ecology and evolutionary biology professor at the University of Arizona, and Ignacio Quintero, a postgraduate research assistant at Yale University, studied 17 groups of animals including 540 species of amphibians, birds, reptiles and mammals. Their study will be published in the latest issue of the journal Ecology Letters.

Photo created by: Flickr user Sergio Villalobos

"A big question is, 'Can some species adapt quickly enough to survive?'" Wiens said. "We estimated the rate of climate change for these species."

The researchers found that the species they studied could adapt to a global temperature change of about 1 degree Celsius per million years. In contrast, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to increase the world's temperature by about 4 C by 2100. It is unlikely many species will survive if they cannot move to a cooler habitat, the study said.

Some animals have more genetic tools than others, an ability to develop new traits, said evolutionary biologist Robert Holt of the University of Florida, but that may not be enough.

"The rate of population decline may still be so much that they can't avoid extinction," he added (Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News, July 18)

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500.

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