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"Animal Futures" -- The Discovery Files

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Predictions of the loss of animal and plant diversity around the world are common under models of future climate change. But a new study shows that because these climate models don't account for species competition and movement, they could grossly underestimate future extinctions.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Adjusting to Change.

(Sound effect: theme music) I'm Bob Karson with the discovery files--new advances in science and engineering from the National Science Foundation.

Computer models of future climate change commonly predict the extinction of plant and animal species. But researchers at the Universities of Connecticut and Washington say these models could vastly underestimate how many species will be lost. In real life, animals move around, they compete, they eat each other. And current computer models don't account for that.

Let's say an area is starting to warm. Over time, plants and animals that can't take the heat try to migrate to more favorable conditions. But not all species can get there fast enough before they die off. Even if they do make it, they may be outcompeted by species that beat them there or were there all along.

(Sound effect: tropical jungle sounds) The new model takes into account the varying rates of migration, and the competition in ecological communities, which can be intense. The results show that animals and plants that can adjust to climate change have the best chance of survival. Those with geographically small ranges, specific habitat needs, or difficulty dispersing, are likely to go extinct overrun by species that can tolerate a wider assortment of habitats.

The possible future for animals at risk.

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