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Viburnum sargentii.
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)

Emblematic of the potential loss of biodiversity as a result of climate change is the polar bear whose natural habitat is greatly altered by rising temperatures. However, a myriad other species are similarly affected by climate change. Climate change is already having an impact on biodiversity, but is projected to become a progressively more significant threat in the coming decades.

Each 1°C of temperature shift moves ecological zones on the ground by about 160 km but many ecosystems and their component species cannot follow and may disappear as a result. Climate change is projected to cause species to migrate to higher latitudes (ie towards the poles) and to higher altitudes, as average temperatures rise. In high-altitude habitats where species are already at the extreme of their range, local or global extinction becomes more likely as there are no suitable habitats to which they can migrate. Changes in the timing of flowering and migration patterns as well as in species distributions already have been observed worldwide. These types of changes can create disequilibrium in ecosystems by altering species relationships (pollination systems, food chains, host-parasite co-evolution) and, for example, by affecting the ranges of disease-carrying organisms.

These texts have been provided by the Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre.

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