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What has global warming to do with a loss of biodiversity which is an ethical challenge to our generation?


Phenology | property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | summary | analyze | recommendations

This is the question that life scientists including Robert Peters, Thomas Lovejoy, Edward O. Wilson & Michael Soule posed in their collected essays

"Global Warming and Biological Diversity"

as part of a World Wildlife Fund US meeting in 1988-89.

"Decades of Data Show Spring Advancing Faster Than Experiments Suggest"

May 2, 2012

"Plants are leafing out and flowering sooner each year than predicted by results from controlled environmental warming experiments, according to data from a major new archive of historical observations assembled with the help of a NASA researcher."

"The study of phenology, the timing of annual plant events such as the first flowering and leafing out of spring, provides one of the most consistent and visible responses to climate change. Long-term historical records, some stretching back decades and even centuries, show many species are now flowering and leafing out earlier, in step with rising temperatures. Because these records aren't available everywhere and predicted future warming is often outside the range of historical records, ecologists often use controlled experiments that create warmer conditions in small plots to estimate how different species will respond to expected temperature increases."

NASA Research, 2012

Today wildlife biologists, conservationists, and ecologists have detected in the habits of birds, butterflies, small rodents, frogs, flowers, and large mammals a definitive response to a warmer Earth.

Property ownership, of particularly water front land, will be the initial institution to bear the brunt of climate change; because shorelines will be the first places to feel the physical and biological impacts of abrupt climate change, called global warming.

American attitude about land.

1. The past fifty years have seen well above the average temperatures in comparison to the northern hemisphere records going back to the 1650s.

2. The ethical structure of our institutional framework is based on a combination of benign self-interest, the responsibility of ownership and the necessity to protect the common good from harm, loss, or decay.

3. Fifty years ago at the dawn of this change in our climate and acceleration in the rise of sea levels, Aldo Leopold, asserted a corollary that as ethical criteria are extended (>), there is a corresponding decline in the realms of expediency (<).

4. Ethics he defined as: "a limitation on the freedom of action" that create an acceptable form of social control to protect us from anti-social conduct. These changes in behavior which ethics fosters, may or may not mean that we can sustain new modes of social cooperation.

5. Because of the complexity of cooperating mechanisms with respect to carbon, water, and heat, those changes in any one of these components of a natural setting put in play direct and indirect patterns of impacts that can completely change the material character and landscape features of privately held and adjacent public property.

6. Any reorganization of institutions has the potential to alter the existing relation between individuals & people in society and among societies and the natural resources upon which all members of the society depend.

7. There exists no ethical means other than insisting on insurance to protect people from one land-use adversely depriving an owner from the enjoyment of their existing land-use.

8. The past is prologue to our situation:

"The net result of these historical climate changes is to increase the vulnerability of Florida's biota to ecological stresses, including the greenhouse effect. This increased vulnerability has been greatly exaggerated by Florida's increasing human population and the associated urbanization.

[Cropper & Harris 1992, p. 311.]

property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | summary | recommendations

9. Coastal crunch-time

"Temperature and precipitation are two climatic variables whose change has profound effects on biological communities." "Several examples of natural vegetation zonation in Florida can be used to test the validity of Holdridge model predictions. The salt marshes of both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts are characterized by three distinct associations, the boundaries of which seem to be sensitive to frequency of freezing temperatures. The present distribution of mangroves along the subtropical peninsula grades into Batis maritima and Salicornia perennis in the transitional zone near the middle o of the peninsula and cordgrass (Spartina spp.), saltgrass (Distichlis spp.) , and Juncus salt marshes of the more northern coasts."

[Op. cit., p. 312]

10. Community: members sharing a life-zone and terrain of interdependent parts:

"The transition zone across Florida appears as a belt nearly 200 km wide that traverses the peninsula from the Tampa Bay to the Daytona Beach area on the east. It is here that the most rapid and notable responses to climate change are predicted to occur."

[p. 313.]

In all scenarios, a "300 km northward displacement of life zones." That is a large shift of plants and insects from southeast to northwest, if rainfall patterns remain within the historical range of experience.

"Not surprisingly, all temperature-rise scenarios result in the dominance of the Florida peninsula by subtropical moist forest such as is now characteristic of the southern tip of Florida."


The most dynamic zone and that of the most rapid change is... exactly the band of most rapid and formidable urban development in Florida and the zone where a massive blockade of concrete turnpikes, hotels, tourist attractions and related strip development will forever act as impediments to movement of biota from south to north."

p. 314.

property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | summary | recommendations | prediction

"Recent Global Climate Modes GCM analysis (1990) indicates that global warming may lead to increased drought, convective wind storms, coastal flooding, and hurricanes. (Overpeck et. al. , 1990).

p. 314.


"With available technology, humans are ineffective at controlling the frequency and severity of freezing temperatures, catastrophic fires, or hurricanes."

"Thus at the regional scale, the rapidity and degree to which present life zones will be affected by severe climatic events is not substantially influenced by humans."

p. 314.

"At present, approximately one-third of the plant species of the Florida peninsula are exotic to Florida....The high intensity of effort necessary to control these exotic species in and around Everglades National Park is neither economically or philosophically acceptable under present conditions."

p. 315.

"Florida's biological communities are perhaps most vulnerable to an indirect effect of climate change, that is, the rising sea level. One of the most significant effects of rising sea level would be the loss of wetlands through erosion and inundation. Half of all the wetlands in the United States could be lost with a 100 cm rise in sea level (Broadus, 1989). Even if sea level continues to rise only at the present rate of about 30 cm per century (Wanless, 1989), the sandy coasts and mangrove ecosystems of south Florida will be destroyed by coastal erosion. The everglades could also be subject to massive saltwater intrusion...."

pp. 315-16.

"A description of processes causing the present, ongoing loss of vertebrate diversity in Florida will help to clarify what negative effects can be expected from the future interaction between human pressures (notably habitat conversion and constriction) and climate change. Erosion of biodiversity includes the loss of species, loss of genetic and phenotypic diversity within species,and the alteration of native communities. by processes such as invasion and dominance by alien species."

p. 316.

property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | summary | recommendations | prediction

Four primary types of ongoing biodiversity erosion:

  1. Loss of large, wide-ranging species: bison, monk seal, red wolf.1
  2. Loss of endemic coastal zone habitat specialists: seaside sparrows.2
  3. Loss of variability and viability within sequestered coastal populations: panther.3
  4. Loss of Neotropical migrants: Bachman's & Kirtland's warblers, monarch butterflies.4

property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | summary | recommendations | prediction

Initial Summary of Impacts

Global Climate Change, like agricultural land-use and urban deforestation all lead separately to a mutual deterioration of native plants and soils. But in their synergistic and ceaseless combination, they will interfere with the successes of –if not tip the balance against– biological restoration. This is because they all exacerbate soil moisture loss, increased methane contributions to air quality deterioration, and act as obstacles to the relocation of seed stock.

"The traditional approaches and magnitude of conservation efforts have not been sufficient."

"At least eleven native birds, including the Everglades (snail) kite, no longer reproduce within the Everglades National Park."

p. 318.

"it is apparent that the nineteenth century solution of simply protecting a small percentage of land by designating national parks will not adequately conserve viable populations of wildlife during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries....Unde conditions of of climatic change, survival will be even more difficult."

p. 318.

"in the face of changing climate and rising sea levels, entire faunas will need to shift across the landscape in search of climatically suitable habitat. It is clearly not feasible, however to purchase the entire landscape for public ownership and wildlife protection."

p. 318.

property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | prediction | summary | recommendations

Under threat of unpredictable and incalculable alterations, our present ethical imagination suggests cooperation among otherwise competing interests as the competitive incentives increasingly thwart our best intentions.

Suggested land-use policies for dealing with rapid climate change:

  1. Maintain "landscape linkages"
  2. Identify, develop and extend "Wildlife dispersal corridors."
  3. Establish "Streamside Buffer Zones."
  4. "Reserve Buffer Zones and Restoration Areas."
  5. Promote "Highway underpasses...that permit wildlife movement."
  6. Maintain "Fences" along highways adjacent to and over wetlands."
  7. "Rotated Boundary orientation of Coastal follow the natural topographic contour will be a necessary first step."
  8. Land Swaps, "Land-swapping policies and procedures for trading title of ownership between private and public holdings are increasingly necessary."
  9. Debt Swaps, "Debt swapping strategy for reducing the national debt of developing countries,...for nature conservation."
  10. "Mitigation land banks ...consist of areas... identified as valuable to the conservation of natural systems."

pp. 319-322.

"During the next 100 years atmosphere trace gases such as CO-2, Methane, and N2O will continue to increase as a result of human activities. The increasing concentration of these and other greenhouse gasses has the potential to produce climate change of unprecedented speed and magnitude."

p. 322.

Cropper & Harris Summary | Siry Suggestions

property | coastal loss | life zones | 4 features of faunal collapse | prediction | summary | recommendations


11,"Biological communities are clearly vulnerable to climate change of the magnitude predicted for the greenhouse century. When coupled with an independent crisis in biodiversity due to other human activities, climate change is an issue that must be considered in any conservation planning," to include a precautionary principle, based on adaptive management and the need to rectify mistaken assumptions from past experience.

p. 322.

"it is essential that conservation management develop new landscape level strategies that take into account the heterogeneous nature of the environment in both space and time."

p. 322.

"We are still operating on nineteenth-century conservation paradigms, even when we know they don't work."

pp. 322-323.

The soils, plants, and animals collectively the land will undergo changes based on unprecedented alteration of water. Both the availability, retention and seasonality of water will significantly interfere with current distribution patterns. Both the timing and intensity of water in the form of precipitation, vaporization, runoff and percolation will alter bacteria, fungi and plant growth selecting for those species that can (r-strategists) reproduce quickly, disperse widely or withstand disturbances.

It is too soon to tell if reproductive strategists with a few large egg or many small egg strategists will make it past the twin constrictions of any breeding population's gene pool due to climate change and fragmentation of range. But evidence from Schaus Swallowtail butterfly [ Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus ] populations in Florida or the Bay checkerspot butterfly [ Euphydryas editha bayensis ] California's coastal ranges and small rodent population behavior in the Rocky mountain and Great basin, suggests that not all creatures face the same fate as the Antarctic Penguins or Arctic Polar Bears whose prey populations or customary habitats are dwindling.

For more on Bay checkerspot butterfly [ Euphydryas editha bayensis ]

Cropper & Harris Summary | Siry Suggestions


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Last Updated on : 6/12/2012, 03/24/2007, January 21, 2014 .

By Joseph Siry

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"Global Warming and Biological Diversity" edited by: Robert L. Peters & Thomas E. Lovejoy.
New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.