Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Rolling the dice on species extinction?

01.07.2005


Climate change and species extinction, two phrases that seem to be on everyone’s mind. But opinions diverge and even if the majority of us can no longer deny climate change – as the signing of the Kyoto agreement by most countries shows – its real dimension and impact on species extinction is still very controversial. But now scientists from Oxford University’s Biodiversity Research Group and colleagues decided to test our capacity to see the future by…going back to the past. And the conclusion is that the most commonly used models to predict species extinction are basically not that good. But not all is bad news.



Where are we going to be in 100 years’ time? The scientific results that reach the public vary so much that we can no longer know what to believe and many times it’s simply our political choices that define our ecological opinion. We are not challenging scientists’ integrity, but how accurate are their forecasting models? The problem is that we cannot go to the future to test their predictions.

But now Miguel B. Araújo, Robert J. Whittaker, Richard J. Ladle and Markus Erhard from the Oxford University’s Biodiversity Research Group, the London’s Natural History Museum Biodiversity Research Group and the Institute for Meteorology and Climate Research in Germany, in a paper just published online in the journal of Global Ecology and Biogeography might have found a solution by approaching the problem in a very different way.


In fact, the team of scientists decided that instead of trying to predict the future why not test the models by going back to the past instead? By using available and very complete population and distribution data on one hundred and sixty one 161 species of British birds during two distinct time periods (period 1 or T1= 1967-1972 and period 2 or T2= 1987-1991), Araújo and colleagues were able to test the accuracy of sixteen of the most widely used models of species evolution. They used the different models to predict what would happen to the British birds’ species from T1 to T2 by using the available species data on T1 together with known climate variation of those twenty years. Subsequently, the results obtained by the different models were compared with the real figures observed in T2. The approach is ingeniously simple but, nevertheless, very informative.

The models tested are climate envelope models. Each species can only survive on a range of particular climates (what is called the species’ climate envelope). The models use this information to predict whether a species will have a tendency to grow or disappear as consequence of a particular climate change.

But when Araújo and colleagues tested the most widely used climate envelope models to predict what would happen to British birds from T1 to T2 , to their surprise, the predicted numbers were totally different from what has happened in reality.

In fact, for 90% of the species tested, the models could not even agree if the species were going to expand or shrink under the given climate scenario. For the remaining 10% of the species, where all the models managed to agree whether the species would shrink or expand, only in half of the predictions the direction was correct. This means that in 5% of the species tested all the sixteen models came to the wrong conclusion by predicting that a species would expand when in fact it shrank, or vice versa.

As one of co-authors, Richard Ladle, says, “It would be just as accurate and a lot less hassle just to toss a coin”.

But not everything is dark; Araújo and colleagues might have found an alternative solution by using what is called a “consensus model”. A consensus model is a mathematical model, which, in this case, finds a projection that reflects the central tendency found by the different climate envelope models used. In fact, Araújo and colleagues show that if the alternative models are used to find a consensus projection, the predictions obtained could become as much as 75% accurate.

But since the consensus projection depends, nevertheless, of other projections what is clear is that scientists need to improve their models’ accuracy in order to have the capacity to predict something that actually resembles reality.

As Richard Ladle says “If we don’t improve our forecasting soon then not only will the climate sceptics find it easy to criticize climate change research, but we will be left making decisions about the future of the planet based on guesswork”.

Catarina Amorim | alfa
Further information:
http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1466-822X.2005.00182.x

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica

05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Shape matters when light meets atom

05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”

05.12.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>