Europe’s wildlife threatened by climate change

Warmer weather is already driving many of the continent's animal species further and further north while trees may be unable to migrate fast enough, according to the European Environment Agency.

As the colder northern regions begin to warm, species which would previously have found the climate too harsh are moving in which is likely to play havoc with existing ecosystems, displacing those which have traditionally inhabited these areas.

In the long term, if temperatures continue to rise, southern regions are likely to become uninhabitable for many species, including those trees which require cooler winters and higher levels of rainfall.

While the idea of migrating trees may seem a little far fetched, forests have always shifted their edges over the generations as those plants on the outer limits seed the areas previously beyond their boundaries.

In this way a tree species can, over long periods, move to adapt to climatic variations but due to the timescales involved and today’s rapidly changing temperatures many species are now under threat.

According to the EEA the impact of climate change on biodiversity will vary extensively from region to region.

Europe’s most sensitive natural ecosystems are found in mountain regions, coastal zones, particularly the Baltic wetlands, the Arctic and in various parts of the Mediterranean.

Many species and ecosystems in these regions are likely to have difficulty in adapting to climate change.

“We can already see startling changes in growing seasons,” said Jacqueline McGlade, Executive Director of the EEA.

“Many species are already on the move, expanding northwards as temperatures rise. Europe’s landscape is already experiencing massive change at our hands as we build on and develop our land resources at a rapid rate.

“Between 1990 and 2000, more than 800,000 hectares, of Europe’s land was built on. That is an area three times the size of Luxembourg. Combine this development with the impacts of climate change and it’s not difficult to imagine the pressure that our future environment will be under.” Professor McGlade said.

The movement of species will play havoc with the EU’s directives on the protection of wildlife, as current conservation policy is underpinned by the idea of static species ranges.

The EEA has pointed out that the ability of countries to meet the requirements of the directives and other international conventions is likely to be compromised by climate change and more dynamic policies are likely to be needed in the future.

Sam Bond

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