Climate change is making our environment bluer
18 May 2011
The ‘colour’ of our environment is becoming ‘bluer’, a change that could have important implications for animals’ risk of becoming extinct, say Imperial ecologists, in a major study published on 7 April in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology.
Ecologists have investigated the link between fluctuations in the environment and those of animal populations for the past 30 years. They describe fluctuations as a colour spectrum, where red signifies an environment or population that fluctuates more slowly over time, such as ocean temperature, and blue signifies more rapid fluctuations, such as changes in air temperature.
Now researchers have shown that the colour of changes in the environment maps onto the colour of changes in animal populations, meaning there are redder (slower) fluctuations in population size if there are also redder (slower) fluctuations in aspects of the environment. Furthermore, they found that our environment is becoming ‘bluer’, in other words fluctuating more rapidly over time.
Previous studies show that the spectral colour of a population is linked to its risk of becoming extinct; now this study shows a way in which climate change could have an impact on the extinction risk of populations by affecting the colour of populations.
While the study seems to provide some good news for species facing extinction, the researchers warn that this is offset by other pressures. Dr Daniel Reuman (Life Sciences) said: “This apparent good news is tempered by the fact that habitat loss, over-exploitation and other factors are likely to be more important drivers of extinction risk, than the colour of temperature fluctuations.”
Adapted from a news release by the British Ecological Society