Nature Does Not Exist In Solitude And Neither Do Humans

Gayatri Phadke/ June 6, 2017/ Education, Policy, Science/ 0 comments

Nature Does Not Exist In Solitude And Neither Do Humans 

(This article was written for a science communication class as an exercise in reporting science for mainstream media.)

Geographic redistribution of species, on land and sea – as they flee from increasingly hot climates due to climate change – will create ripple effects on agriculture, health, and more, drastically changing the social and economic dynamics if left unattended, according to a recent Science article.  

The comprehensive review, authored by an international team of 41 researchers, summarizes possible biological, financial, and societal outcomes as various species shift. The authors estimate that 11 of the United Nations sustainable development goals will be affected by such shifts. Furthermore, they propose potential actions in response to these shifts that call for international cooperation.

Countries often have delayed response to changing environments, and scientists do not yet have a reliable method of predicting fallouts from these shifts, says the article. The researchers recommend improved data collection on migrating species, increased public awareness, and accounting of both these measures into climate change policies to maintain sustainable communities.

When local climates undergo extreme temperature change, species shift locations to cooler climates, resulting in extinction, loss of diversity, or breakdown of the whole ecosystem, a biological community, according to the authors. Majority of these effects are hard to predict, making assessment of some impacts on human life unreliable.

The paper cites several examples where changing climates will affect agricultural revenues. Notably, the coffee growing region is expected to shift away from current locations resulting in lower revenue for some countries, such as El Salvador, a 2014 paper reports.

Closer home, “two thirds of fisheries species have already shifted northward due to climate-related changes in ocean conditions along the U.S. east coast”, says Dr. Roger Griffis, climate coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), affecting fisheries in the States.

The rising temperatures are introducing malaria to new regions as mosquitoes extend their migration, says the paper, increasing the burden on health care systems. The authors suggest that tropical developing countries are likely to face the highest outward shifts and thus most economic constraints.

Such policies should be designed with more collaboration, between land and marine conservation agencies, and within countries or neighboring regions, recommends the paper. It further advocates for involvement of indigenous communities that can aid data collection during research. The Skolt Sámi are increasing pike catch in Finland, in response to threatened survival of the Atlantic salmon production, which has been affecting the traditional life of this indigenous community.

Developing strategies, such as the one above, to mitigate or adapt changing economic scenery will require better understanding of patterns of species shifts and their effects, the paper posits. The authors recommend multi-pronged approach of large-scale experimental research and data modeling, used to build models for predicting the fallouts from such shifts.

When explaining about models that predict species shifts, Dr. Cascade Sorte, an assistant professor at University of California, Irvine, who studies environmental impacts of snails that have migrated up California’s coast from Baja California, Mexico, explained in an interview: “We need to make the models more specific or dependable, but not too strict as to make them non-adaptable to other species”. The answer lies in global data collection, according to Dr. Sorte. She and her colleagues are quick to point out in the paper, our current incapability for collecting this magnitude of data.

The paper warns us that despite overwhelming evidence, current policies fall short of addressing such shifts and that “Enhanced awareness, supported by appropriate governance” is the solution. Dr. Griffis is optimistic though: “The conference that led to this paper and the resulting global network of scientists is a good first step to better track, prepare for and respond to the impacts of shifting species distributions”.

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