Avoiding the climate failsafe point

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Science Advances  22 Aug 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 8, eaau9981
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau9981

Thomas E. Lovejoy

Lee Hannah

Although models of climate and vegetation change are greatly improving, they remain far from perfect. For example, on the one hand, recent modeling studies indicate that limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C will greatly reduce the impact on the ranges of insect, vertebrate, and plant communities. However, we also know that, since these models do not account for critical climate-sensitive relationships among species, their predictions are serious underestimates.

New research is allowing scientists to better understand the fine-tunings of climate-sensitive relationships among species, including how even very small changes of temperature can have devastating effects on ecosystems. We know, for example, that many coral bleaching events are due to temperature-based disruption of coral reef ecosystems. Even a subtle increase of temperature for a short period can cause coral animals to eject their symbiotic algae, a separation that quickly leads to coral bleaching and often to mortality and the collapse of the entire reef ecosystem. Another example of huge impacts resulting from small temperature changes is that slightly …

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