Conservation International and LiveEarth.MSN.com Spotlight Global Impacts of Climate Change

6/7/2007

Arlington, Virginia � From California to Nepal, farmers will face dramatic water shortages. Meanwhile, threatened frogs are dying in the Andes while beetle populations are exploding in Alaska and British Columbia, decimating forests. Climate change is altering the way the Earth functions. Now, a new global awareness effort by Conservation International (CI) and LiveEarth.MSN.com provides a unique overview of these varied impacts.

Twenty examples of the far-reaching and diverse impacts of climate change are featured on a new interactive map powered by Microsoft Virtual Earth unveiled this week on the LiveEarth.MSN.com website. CI scientists provided information for the map, which illustrates the global reach of climate change. Accompanied by visuals, the map provides examples from all corners of the planet, as well as multiple links for visitors to find more information on CI�s website at www.conservation.org.

�It is important to understand how climate change is affecting everyone everywhere, from the United States to China, from Australia to the Amazon,� said Peter Seligmann, the CI chairman and CEO. �The solution must be on a global scale involving all people and all sectors of society around the world."

�MSN asked CI to be one of our content partners to provide environmental content for the new LiveEarth.MSN.com site because it is a global organization with a solid scientific reputation and track record,� said Lisa Gurry, Senior Director at MSN.

The map provides a global snapshot of 20 diverse locations around the planet where climate change is affecting people, animals, plants and entire ecosystems. This selection, labeled by MSN as �hotspots,� is an illustrative sample of the many regions where the effects of climate change already are evident.

CI was the first organization to base a global conservation strategy on the �biodiversity hotspots,� a scientific designation of 34 regions worldwide that claim the highest levels of plant and animal species diversity and are at the greatest risk of destruction. The term �hotspots� on the LiveEarth.MSN.com map does not represent biodiversity hotspot regions, but refers to locations that help illustrate the impacts of climate change. Detailed information about the biodiversity hotspots can be found at www.biodiversityhotspots.org.

CI is currently conducting a systematic scientific assessment of climate change impacts in the biodiversity hotspots and high biodiversity wilderness areas. The assessment will provide an objective means of prioritizing how and where to most effectively incorporate climate change considerations into conservation actions to protect imperiled biodiversity in these regions, as well as other environmental benefits. More than 1.35 billion people live in the biodiversity hotspots and wilderness areas. The rural poor in these regions depend on healthy ecosystems to harvest wild plants for food, fuel, clothing, medicinal purposes and shelter. Multiple global ecological services these regions provide, such as cleansing air and fresh water, benefit people everywhere.

Examples of climate change impacts featured on the LiveEarth.MSN.com map include:

The Arctic, where polar bears (Ursus maritimus) hunt for food on sea ice and raise their cubs in dens carved into the ice. As the planet warms and sea ice melts, polar bears have less opportunity to hunt for seals and must swim longer distances back to shore. Many drown when caught in storms while others starve, reducing the population of an already threatened species.

The Andes, where frogs and toads are dying from a mysterious fungal disease. Climate change has contributed to the occurrence of the fungal disease, considered the main reason why 67 percent of Tropical American harlequin toads (Atelopus spp.) have gone extinct in the Andean tropical mountains. Alan Pounds, a leading researcher of the amphibian decline, says: �The fungus is the bullet that killed the toads, but climate change pulled the trigger.�

Gulf of Chiriqui, Panama, where a species of hydrocoral was declared extinct before scientists had time to name it. In 1991, it was thought to be gone forever as a result of significant ocean warming in 1982-83. A small colony was rediscovered in 1993, but then was killed by subsequent ocean warming. The status of the species is uncertain.

South Africa, where the population of quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) in the nation�s northwest is declining due to warming and drying. The San or �Bushman� people use the tree�s branches to make quivers for arrows. The succulent branches are nearly hollow but have been unable to hold enough water to stave off climate change.

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica, where conditions are drying as clouds move higher up mountain slopes. The golden toad (Bufo periglens) is already extinct, and many other amphibian populations are declining dramatically. Birds are migrating to higher slopes, and toucans from lower elevations are driving resplendent quetzals (Pharomachrus mocinno) to higher elevations by preying on their nests.

Antarctica, where there has been a 10-fold drop in the krill population since 1950, likely due to decreases in the algae on which krill feed. The algae grow on the underside of sea ice, but as sea ice melts due to climate change, there is less algae. Krill form the base of the Antarctic marine food web, so species from whales to penguins are at risk due to krill population declines.

Alaska and British Colombia, where climate change is prompting an outbreak of mountain beetles in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forests, killing millions of trees. More beetles are surviving the winter because of decreasing freezes, resulting in population explosions during summer. Similar beetle outbreaks have decimated spruce forests.

The Galapagos Islands, where every two to seven years, El Ni�o weather patterns alter conditions in the waters. Warm ocean waters prevent deep, nutrient-rich water from rising to the surface, starving the entire ocean food chain. The Galapagos damsel fish (Azurina eupalama) hasn�t been seen in recent years, and more than 95 percent of coral reefs around the islands died in a single season. Climate change is likely to exacerbate these conditions.

Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia, where marine habitats naturally experience some of the largest ocean temperature variations. To date, they have shown exceptional resilience to the stresses associated with climate change, and therefore will be central to the repopulation of other areas impacted by climate change.

Pacific Islands, where coral reefs have been compared to underwater rain forests because of their species richness. However, 20 percent of Pacific Island reefs have been destroyed, and another 60 percent are severely threatened by climate change. Losing reefs is equal to losing $375 billion dollars a year and will jeopardize the food and economic security of 30 million people. Because most coral reefs exist in tropical waters of developing countries, their loss due to climate change will affect impoverished populations the most.

The Amazon, where natural fires are increasing due to longer and more severe drought conditions throughout the region. The fires threaten many rare plant species. A recent study on a representative sample of plants species now living in the Amazon, predicted that if current trends in climate change continue up to 43 percent could disappear in 80 years.

Madagascar, where global climate models shows that wet tropical forests � already imperiled due to land cover change � will likely experience substantial changes in rainfall patterns. In Ranomafana National Park, scientists have observed an increase in months with no rainfall and an associated increase in deaths of young lemurs found nowhere else in the world.

Papua New Guinea, where extraordinary tropical montane wilderness and extensive coral reefs will suffer serious impacts. In 1997-98, drought encompassed the island and small fires quickly spread throughout the dry flammable forests.

Indonesia, where scientists predict that tropical forests will experience large changes in rainfall this century. Already, prolonged droughts and other extreme weather events are increasing in frequency and threaten Indonesia�s forests and wildlife.

Nepal, where the rapid melting of Himalayan glaciers will cause flooding and avalanches. As climate change progresses to diminish meltwater from glaciers in parts of Nepal, India and China, the loss of agricultural productivity dependent on this water source will affect the food security of more than 15 percent of the world�s population living in valleys below major mountain ranges.

China, where 10 percent of the world�s population � more than 640 million people � live in coastal areas at great risk from a rising sea level, which is projected to increase dramatically � anywhere from one to six meters � this century. Coastal cities, agriculture, livelihoods, and infrastructure will be affected. China is among 10 countries with the largest number of people vulnerable to rising sea levels.

Australia, where increasing drought is already occurring. By 2020, between 75 million and 250 million people worldwide are projected to face water shortages, and loss of rainwater could cut yields from rain-fed agriculture in half. Poor people will be especially affected as agriculture declines, drinking water becomes scare, freshwater lakes and rivers and fish are reduced, and livestock, trees, and other plants die.

The Congo, where populations near the equator are subject to severe swings in precipitation, resulting in flooding and drought cycles. This will decrease local food production, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes.

Southern Peru, where the Andes Mountains have lost at least 22 percent of their glacier area since 1970. These glaciers feed the rivers that support sprawling cities and shantytowns along the Pacific coast � where two-thirds of Peru�s 27 million people live and only 1.8 percent of the nation�s water supply is found. Glacial streams also serve agriculture and hydroelectric plants that generate 70 percent of the country's power. Overall, Peru contains 70 percent of Earth's tropical glaciers.

California and the Sonoran Wilderness, United States, where late spring stream flow could decline by up to 30 percent if temperatures rise to the medium warming range and precipitation decreases. California farmers could lose as much as 25 percent of the water supply they need. Water supplies also are at risk from rising sea levels, with an influx of saltwater degrading California's estuaries, wetlands, and groundwater aquifers.

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