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Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson made headlines last year when he famously dismissed climate change as something that we should just adapt to, but new research shows that most species won’t be able to adapt soon enough to a rapidly changing climate. John J Wiens, an ecologist with the University of Arizona, compared past rates of adaptation for roughly 540 amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, and found that many species evolve too slowly to cope with what most experts believe will be a four degree rise in global temperatures by 2100.

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Every species has a climatic niche which is the set of temperature and precipitation conditions in the area where it lives and where it can survive,” Wiens, a professor in UA’s department of ecology and evolutionary biology in the College of Science, told Physorg.

“For example, some species are found only in tropical areas, some only in cooler temperate areas, some live high in the mountains, and some live in the deserts.”

While some species, particularly terrestrial vertebrate species, may be able to move to higher latitudes where temperatures are cooler, many are likely to succumb to extinction. This is larger driven by food sources. As an example, Wiens points to the example of Bighorn Sheep, which live in mountainous areas and feed on grass. When temperatures rise, and their habitat dries up, grass becomes more scarce and the animals starve to death.

Wiens and Ignacio Quintero, a post graduate research assistant at Yale University, published their fidings in the online journal Ecology Letters.

“We found that on average, species usually adapt to different climatic conditions at a rate of only by about 1 degree Celsius per million years,” Wiens told the paper.

“But if global temperatures are going to rise by about 4 degrees over the next hundred years as predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, that is where you get a huge difference in rates. What that suggests overall is that simply evolving to match these conditions may not be an option for many species.”

Via Physorg