Throughout millions of years, the climate of the earth has been constantly changing. This has happened due to changes in the orbit of the Earth and Moon, changes to the amounts of various gases in the atmosphere and changes in the energy output of the Sun. These climate changes have been gradual and so species have been able to take either of their two options – adapt or move. However, species now face a bigger challenge than they have ever had before.
1. Adapt; the climate of the Earth is now changing over decades or even years, rather than the centuries or millenia of previous climate changes. This doesn’t allow species the time to gradually adapt and evolve to cope with the changes. Our high demand for land has left much smaller numbers of individuals of each species than before. This means that each species possesses less genetic variation to evolve, reducing the potential they have to adapt.
2. Move; again, our need for large areas of land has left much less space for wildlife and far more barriers in the way. Even where small areas remain, these are often isolated by urban or agricultural land. Some species, such as birds and winged insects, are able to move from place to place. However, other species such as small mammals and plants have more difficulty moving large distances from one place to another. This effectively means that if their small island of habitat becomes unsuitable for them, they cannot move and will eventually die out.
While climate change is complex and the detail is still emerging, we can be certain that in the near future habitats and ecosystems will be put under more strain than ever before. How ecosystems will react is not certain, especially where they are already in poor condition, but they will be more able to cope if they contain as many species as possible and are not isolated from each other. By stockpiling biodiversity and ensuring as many species as possible can move with the climate we will be giving biodiversity the best possible chance to cope with the future changes. If we can ensure that functioning ecosystems are retained throughout climate change, we will continue to enjoy the ecosystem services they provide.
Read more information on climate change and the National Park.