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 Bioinvasion on the rise
15.02.2017 | Universität Konstanz

nachricht Litter Levels in the Depths of the Arctic are On the Rise
10.02.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

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: Breakthrough with a chain of gold atoms

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

In the field of nanoscience, an international team of physicists with participants from Konstanz has achieved a breakthrough in understanding heat transport

Im Focus: DNA repair: a new letter in the cell alphabet

Results reveal how discoveries may be hidden in scientific “blind spots”

Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...

Im Focus: Dresdner scientists print tomorrow’s world

The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.

The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...

Im Focus: Mimicking nature's cellular architectures via 3-D printing

Research offers new level of control over the structure of 3-D printed materials

Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...

Im Focus: Three Magnetic States for Each Hole

Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".

Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Booth and panel discussion – The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings at the AAAS 2017 Annual Meeting

13.02.2017 | Event News

Complex Loading versus Hidden Reserves

10.02.2017 | Event News

International Conference on Crystal Growth in Freiburg

09.02.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stingless bees have their nests protected by soldiers

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

New risk factors for anxiety disorders

24.02.2017 | Life Sciences

MWC 2017: 5G Capital Berlin

24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>