A Theory Ready for Extinction

Don’t worry too much over those warmist predictions that millions of species will soon be lost to climate change. Judging by their methods it is the doomsayers who are the real dodos

Guest essay by Dr. David Stockwell

dodoWill climate change really cause species extinctions? It’s not a simple question to synthesise the connections between the richness of different natural systems of forests and savannas and reefs with the climate models used to make projections of future climates, and then translate this knowledge into useful conservation advice.

The recent state of art complied in the book “Saving a Million Species: Extinction Risk from Climate Change” suggests that many experts continue to support the view expressed by the influential work by Thomas et al 2004 finding species extinction by climate change is a serious and urgent concern.  However, conservation biologist Daniel Botkin reviews the book, finding the scientific debate over global warming and its possible environmental effects is narrow and lacking in rigor:

“…it becomes clear that the title gives away the editor’s prejudice. If ‘Saving a Million Species’ assumes, as it seems to, that these [species] are threatened overwhelmingly by global warming and that forecasts supporting this in general correct, then the book fails, in total, to provide that much-needed objective analysis.”

Fails to provide “that much-needed objective analysis”?  Ouch! Surely a scientific manuscript must have objectivity as a first priority.  Is Botkin suggesting that belief in a massive increase in species extinctions is merely subjective?

The starting point of any objective analysis is to examine one’s assumptions, and the trajectory of global warming is surely the most central.  The IPCC’s projections are the typical starting points for any scientific study of climate change’s effects on species. Science provides an example:

“Even the most optimistic estimates of the effects of contemporary fossil fuel use suggest that mean global temperature will rise by a minimum of 2°C before the end of this century and that CO2 emissions will affect climate for tens of thousands of years. ”

Yet climate sensitivity to atmospheric CO2 has been downgraded in the latest IPCC report, and so should the forward projections.  The observed rate of warming is less than 0.2C per decade, and so below 2°C, and well below the minimum warming scenario of 1.25C by 2050 or 0.25C per decade used in Thomas et al 2004.

The lesson of the ‘climategate’ emails, the ‘hockeystick wars’, and the recent ‘pause’ is that the IPCC reports have a tendency to be self-serving. Blind faith in the IPCC projections shows subjectivity, if not outright naïveté.  To the degree that studies base their estimates on a rate of warming far greater than observed, published extinction estimates from climate change should also be down graded.

Could the analytical methods be subjective as well?  Expected species’ extinctions from climate change are derived from Species Area Relationships (or SARs), which is an empirical relationship between an area of habitat, such as forest or grassland, and the number of species it contains. A statistical method called Niche Modelling is used to extrapolate the area of suitable habitat of a species before and after climate change. The species with reduced area are selected (I would say ‘cherry-picked’) and then the average areal loss is plugged into the SAR relationship to give the number of species lost in a given climate change.

The problem of ‘circular reasoning’ with the SAR method was raised here and in Botkin’s“Forecasting the effects of global warming on biodiversity”, and stems from the accentuation of the losers and deprecation of the winners.  Due to the cherry-picking of species with areal reductions, any change at all increases extinctions, and so the outcome is predetermined. The circular fallacy can be further illustrated by imaging what would happen in a global cooling scenario.  SAR-based methods would cherry-pick the species that lose habitat due to cooling and so again predict an increase in extinctions. The SAR method is biased and decidedly anti-change.

The problem with circular reasoning is that it is simply prejudice. While the method may help identify those species potentially at risk, it cannot tell you objectively if climate change is good, bad or indifferent.  I identified a similar flaw due to ‘cherry-picking’ in the development of the ‘hockey stick’ graphs here, and as with species extinctions, the practitioners appear blissfully unaware of their methods’ lack of objectivity.

Another portrait in subjectivity is former Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery in “Jellyfish they’re taking over” in speculating that anthropogenic global warming has caused the world jellyfish population to explode. While reports of 20 year cycles in jellyfish abundance are outpaced by jellyfish horror stories in the popular press, there is no robust evidence for a global increase in jellyfish, other than the natural cycle.  Subjective impressions from partial population die-outs are often attributed to climate disruption, but then turn out to be natural, or premature — such as the white lemuroid possum extinction, and the polar bear hoax.

A more objective approach to environmental effects must go beyond the static ‘niche’ concept linking the species and environment, and use more dynamic approaches such as ‘universal neutral theory’ by Hubbard (2011).  One simple example of the application of neutral theory is island populations, where the closer islands to the mainland have more species than the further ones, and ‘niche’ differences between the islands have little to no effect.

Neutral theory finds that dispersal is crucial for maintaining and even increasing biodiversity. Conversely, a stable unvarying environment is ultimately detrimental.  An analogy is the ‘creative destruction’ of capitalism, where the rapid turnover of new businesses increases productivity and choice, as opposed to moribund economies organized around established businesses that keep out new contenders. Neutral theory is largely supported by the fossil record, which finds relatively few extinctions from quite large and rapid climate changes in the past (see also Botkin et al. 2005), and slow declines in diversity during periods of stable climate.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of neutral theory is that the dominant species can completely turn-over at random intervals without any prompting from changes in the environment.  Pollen records from lake beds and other sources going back thousands of years show it is normal for large parts of populations to die out and then suddenly (over paleo-time scales, that is) return to domination.

We do know is that small localized populations known as ‘endemics’ are at risk from broad scale habitat destruction by agriculture and urbanization, and from dispersals of novel diseases and predators. But these processes are not at all like climate change, and extreme events like fire, floods and cyclones seem to maintain and promote natural diversity. There is also evidence of some benefits from the increased productivity that comes with increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

How can a scientific assessment be objective when the methods themselves are of dubious validity, and still highly contentious? A balanced appraisal would highlight the ecological theory, paleo-evidence and respected opinion that suggests it is plausible, and even likely, that moderate climate change is not harmful to species diversity and may even be beneficial.

Dr David Stockwell, Adjunct Researcher, Central Queensland University

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75 thoughts on “A Theory Ready for Extinction

  1. One is getting the feeling these days that it really is over for the AGW crowd. Even MSM has had it. Expect more and more skeptical stories. Its going to become the “in” thing soon to be skeptical or even be a denier. LOL

  2. “possible environmental effects is narrow and lacking in rigor’.

    Absolutely! My book Landscapes and Cycles reveals in depth just how easily bogus claims that global warming causes extinctions get published by advocacy journals like Nature. The most disturbing example is the way CO2 advocates thwarted conservationists’ attempts to save amphibians from a disease introduced by researchers because it contradicted attempts to implicate warming. Red Contrasting Good and Bad Science: Disease, Climate Change and the Case of the Golden Toad http://landscapesandcycles.net/contrasting-good-and-bad-science–disease–climate.html

  3. I remember from Willis’ article:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/01/25/always-trust-your-gut-extinct/

    “Instead of 33 mammals and 80 birds going extinct on the continents per decade, in the last 500 years on the great continental landmasses of the world, we’ve only seen three mammals and six birds go extinct. Only nine continental mammal and bird species are known to have gone extinct in 500 years. Three mammals and six birds in 500 years, that’s less than one continental mammal extinction per century, and these highly scientific folks are claiming that 30 mammals and 80 birds are going extinct per decade? … once again I’m forced to ask, where are the corpses?”

  4. Hm… It’s not a terribly circular problem. As defined, if there is no disperal — quadraplegic zerbras, for example — and you take just one of the stock assumptions of naive evolution — perfect environmental selection — then all changes in the environment are detrimental. It follows from the premises directly. The problem is that the premises are counterfactual with respect to evolution itself, and absurdly strict otherwise. eg. It would satisfy for lichens in a very rapidly changing environment in which the change is of a large magnitude. But it’s invalid and flatly broken in other uses.

    A more important question is why species counts matter at all. It can certainly be shown that any number of genomes are such that they increase mutation rates when environmental stresses are significant. Which is, as noted, an increase in species — in the broadest sense — when climate is undergoing large changes. In stable regimes, then it’s direct species on species competition at the margins of efficiency; and so a general loss of species. But this produces an awkward bioethic that we should alternate generations of rats between the arctic and tropics for the sake of biodiversity. And it is not at all clear why one should prefer that or its absence no matter the case.

  5. Are intellectuals allowing dogma in science but not in religion?

    It wasn’t just that natural selection theory had to be proven; theology had to be disproven, too.
    Snip
    Today, likewise, we see that evolutionism has its priests and devotees. Entomologist and sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University tells us that the “evolutionary epic is mythology,” depending on laws that are “believed but can never be definitively proved,” taking us “backward through time to the beginning of the universe.” Wilson knows that any good religion must have its moral dimension, and so he urges us to promote biodiversity, to amend our original sin of despoiling the earth. There is an apocalyptic ring to Wilson’s writings, and in true dispensationalist style, he warns that there is but a short time before all collapses into an ecological Armageddon. Repent! The time is near!

    http://www.beliefnet.com/News/Science-Religion/2000/01/Double-Dealing-In-Darwin.aspx?p=1

    An Interview With Michael Ruse

    http://www.americanscientist.org/bookshelf/id.3533,content.true,css.print/bookshelf.aspx

    Priests in lab coats

    http://www.salon.com/2005/08/06/ruse/

  6. Anticipating an alarmist reply… The human reliance on cheap fossil fuel energy which is threatening the planet with catastrophic global warming is what forced us to deploy windmills that kill protected species of birds and bats, gave us no choice but to cut down forests and rainforests to grow bio-fuel crops and install solar panels that endanger many other animal species and, enticed us to siphon government funds away from worthwhile ecological programs over to ones for “Combating Climate Change”. In other words, all the destruction done in the wake of our righteous effort to mitigate the CAGW threat isn’t our fault at all – it’s the fault of big oil and big coal who created the threat!

  7. Well, we’ve been all over this question at WUWT. In addition to other posters (see the category list here ), I’ve contributed:

    Where Are The Corpses?

    Followed by:

    New paper from Loehle & Eschenbach shows extinction data has been wrongly blamed on climate change due to island species sensitivity. This covered the publication of our journal article, Historical bird and terrestrial mammal extinction rates and causes

    Then there was Alexander The Great Explains The Drop In Extinctions, and Always Trust Your Gut Extinct.

  8. In actuality, species extinction is an integral part of evolution and life. “Bring it on; we will make more to do the job of the previous species” is the credo of evolution !!

    Also, I question any conclusion that “a stable unvarying environment is ultimately detrimental” (unless you mean to indicate a stable monoculture). The observed reality is that tropical rainforests, the ultimate in stable and minimally varying environments, have the greatest species diversity known on earth.

  9. If we look into our past our most cherished species including the polar bear have survived much more extreme climatic periods than experience today.
    I bet today we find more new species than go extinct.
    We know who the alarmists are and we know their objectives and the extinction mantra is just another theme to shackle humanity.

    Time to stop all the crap and reach for the stars again.

    Enough is enough.

  10. The basic predictions of millions of extinctions mainly were derived from computer models. in one case they used a program designed to determine the most useful area of a forest to examine and detect all available species and ran it (tortured it) backwards, pretending that it was a means of detecting extinction rates. If you start with too small an are of forest, then when the areas are increased many species would be missing. It was totally bogus, but they claimed huge extinctions.

    In the last 100 years only 6 mammals and birds have gone extinct, mostly from wither hunting or island populations destroyed by rats or cats, none by habitat loss or “climate change.” In the meantime we have discovered 15 species that we thought were extinct, so we are actually up 9 species.

  11. Good article from Dr. Stockwell. One thing he did not mention though is that we now have the technical capability (at least in theory, if not in reality) to bring back extinct species of creatures from centuries and ages past. These creatures are said to be physically extinct, but not genetically extinct. It’s called de-extinction:

    http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/04/125-species-revival/zimmer-text

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/03/130311-deextinction-reviving-extinct-species-opinion-animals-science/

    De-extinction has become quite a controversial subject (I personally am for it), and a number of extinct creatures have been mentioned as possible candidates including the Elephant bird of Madagascar, the Dodo bird of Reunion Island (pictured in the post), the Wooly Mammoth, the Carolina parakeet and the Passenger pigeon just to name a few. To the extent that we humans may be responsible for the extinction of some if not all of these creatures due to hunting or habitat loss (the colorful feathers of the Carolina parakeet were popular for women’s hats a hundred years ago leading to its extinction), I think we owe it the animal kingdom to use this technology to do this. I understand that many may want to forget about the extinct species on the candidate list and concentrate on the endangered and threatened species that are still around today. But I say let’s do both.

    Claiming climate change is bringing about extinction of members of the animal kingdom today only serves to undermine what we should be talking about—de-extinction.

  12. Eliza said:
    December 5, 2013 at 7:15 pm
    One is getting the feeling these days that it really is over for the AGW crowd.
    ———————-
    The AGW perps may be losing cred, but the driving force behind them, the anti-American, anti-Capitalism UN commie types are shape-shifters.

    I was watching an episode of the Simpsons the other night in which the family were on a cruise ship. Lisa, the proglib daughter, was invited to a play area for “advanced” children. Of of the kids there invited Lisa to join him in monitoring the rising acidity of the oceans.

    AGW may be on the wane, but the UN’s new meme is already percolating into the pop culture.

  13. At some point “bias” is just lying. That point passed long ago, when mainstream science of all fields called us skeptics names instead of changed their tune.

  14. And it looks like sardines could be on the way out. Why? Because the seas are cooling:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn24493-sardine-disappearance-was-foreseen-but-ignored.html

    He found that sardines have reproduced less since waters cooled in the 1990s. Almost all eggs now come from fish born a decade ago, which are nearly gone.

    What’s more, acoustic results show that the fish have become smaller over the past decade, partly because of chillier water.

  15. Jquip: “Hm… It’s not a terribly circular problem.” Circularity in general are arguments that are proven by the premises (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circular_reasoning) and you are right, by cherry picking the losers extinctions follows from the premise, so its not a circular chain. That’s the general usage though.

    To continue with your comment, I think we should preserve species if we can. You only have to work with these threatened species for them to win your heart. Its not about a reason for conservation, but a deep value for diversity. My issue is not with the intent, but with the scientific literature, which in general does not go beyond: “Global warming is a fact, increasing extinctions are correctly projected by models and proved in fact.” The major models (SAR) are grossly biased and climate change is a fundamentally different process to things like habitat destruction that have caused extinction.

  16. BioBob: “In actuality, species extinction is an integral part of evolution and life. “Bring it on;”

    Not on any human time frame. I think humans are cuasing an increased rate of extinctions, just not through global warming.

  17. higley7: It has taken almost 10 years of acrimonious debate in the literature to get to the position you state. There is a lot in the literature that my article that I did not go into. SAR is dead (Jim).

  18. jim Steele says:Looks good Jim. I will read it as soon as I can. The Bd issue is interesting to me as it is quite circumscribed. I read an interesting article about Bd in Australia to the effect that there was no valid evidence of Bd-induced decline because Bd surveys to establish Bd-free status had not occurred before the Bd infections took place. That to me sounds like an opportunistic infections that has always existed, but with increased surveillance – or even researcher-induced dispersal – gives a spurious correlation with global warming. Its just a theory, but I don’t see any testing against alternatives in the literature – which is my main beef about lack of objectivity.

  19. Willis: The scientific literature on extinctions has been in denial, though I get the impression that 2013 has seen a massive increase in skeptical papers on the AGW-mediated extinction theory. That would be a good basis for a review of the literature (though just a bit subjective ;).

  20. Mark and two Cats says: December 5, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    [re "rising acidity of the oceans"]

    AGW may be on the wane, but the UN’s new meme is already percolating into the pop culture.

    Hardly a week goes by that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), creator and promulgator of scary stories since 1972, is not spouting off – and/or convening at least one COP, MOP, Working Group, Panel, Platform, SubCommittee and Gaia knows what – about some meme or other.

    If the UNEP has learned nothing else during the course of its abysmal history, it is that they need to “diversify” their memes and scary stories (and acronymic offspring) – so that they can keep many meme baskets in the air.

    And they get lots of help from a virtual army of NGOs willing to spread the gospels. Speaking of extinction fictions, last May, for example, there was a “landmark statement” which covered all the meme bases (including a tipping point, of course). Here’s how it was advertised via a letter in Nature:

    ‘Maintaining humanity’s life support systems in the 21st century’ (see go.nature.com/prudoq) — is endorsed by more than 500 global-change researchers whose work spans every continent. It warns that unless decisive countermeasures are put into place immediately, climate change, loss of ecological diversity, extinctions, environmental contamination, human population growth and overconsumption of resources will degrade our quality of life within a few decades. [emphasis added -hro]

    The list of 500+ signatories includes many of the usual suspects: Mann, Gleick, Weaver, Hansen, Karoly, Ehrlich, and Suzuki.

    The first two items of this so-called “scientists’ consensus” in their “Essential Points for Policymakers” that “science unequivocally demonstrates”:

    Climate disruption – more, faster climate change than since humans first became a species

    Extinctions – not since the dinosaurs went extinct have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.

    For all the gory details, please see Crisis of the week: the biosphere … new “Statement” percolated, circulated and endorsed.

    • Peter Miller: Hotter generally means more species except in deserts, so there are exceptions. The thing about climate change is that as a process, no habitat is destroyed – it moves – that’s all. Habitat destruction (or over-exploitation from hunting or predators) is a different process. Conservationists say skeptics are irresponsible for undermining conservation efforts – but I think they are irresponsible for undermining objectivity in science.

  21. The concept of species extinction through climate change is such a ridiculous one for the very simple reason the hotter the climate (of course, subject to water availability), the greater the bio-diversity and therefore the number of species.

    Man’s agricultural practices are another matter altogether.

    But this is why we call the peddlers of this type of BS, alarmists. As we all know, there is almost no funding in climate research other than that which provides the political establishment with the results it requires.

    Species extinction, ocean acidification, disappearing polar bears, dying coral reefs etc, it is all the same unsubstantiated alarmist guff. The few points, where there might be cause for some minor concern, are totally explainable by natural climate cycles, e.g. i) arctic ice cap melting (now reversed!), ii) melting glaciers and rising sea levels (both started back in the 1850s).

    So what’s left?

    Answer: Only the need by second rate scientists to perpetuate the bloated bureaucratic monster that is the Global Warming Industry.

  22. Biobob,
    “The observed reality is that tropical rainforests, the ultimate in stable and minimally varying environments, have the greatest species diversity known on earth.”

    The observed reality is that Antarctica, the ultimate in stable and minimally varying environment has the least species diversity known on earth.

  23. ““Instead of 33 mammals and 80 birds going extinct on the continents per decade, in the last 500 years on the great continental landmasses of the world, we’ve only seen three mammals and six birds go extinct.”

    It isn’t often that I disagree with Willi Eschenbach, but in this case he is misinformed. About 18 continental bird species have gone extinct in the last 500 years. There are six in the continental US alone:
    Labrador Duck
    Eskimo Curlew
    Passenger Pigeon
    Carolina Parakeet
    Ivory-billed Woodpecker
    Bachmann’s Warbler

    I must add however, that there is absolutely nothing that suggests that climate change was involved in any of these extinctions. IThey were due either to habitat destruction or overhunting or both. And it is these (together with introduction of alien diseases and predators) that continue to cause extinctions. Not climate change.

  24. Vince Causey: Tropical Rainforests can be very unstable – its a matter of alpha and beta diversity and the scale of disturbance. Its not an easy problem and species demographics a bit like multiple AR(1) series in a spatial domain.

  25. One species that is definitely endangered by climate change is the Greater Spotted Global Warming Activist.

    They seem unable to adapt to the unchanging climate.

  26. The empirical data from the last six Holocene’s including our own all show temperatures warmer than today and therefore the premise that a degree or two of warming would wipe out many species is nonsense. They have been here before and are adapted to a changing climate as it is the norm….we move up and down with Solar Maximum’s, Solar Minimums. Holocene’s and Ice Ages.
    As has been pointed out before the temperature rise of 10C in 3 years in the Younger Dryas Period was truly remarkable and puts the gentle warming at the end of the last century into context for rational people.
    However AGW believers are not rational and have turned an area of science into a religion, a career and a lifestyle.
    What has been depressing is that the MSM have failed to address this nonsense a long time ago as even allowing for the BBC, Guardian and the Independent in the UK there are other outlets both in TV and other newspapers. This week I discovered that the editor of Britians main satirical magazine Private Eye was an AGW….a few years ago Christopher Brooker was astonished to find that Ian Hislop thought George Monbiot was the world’s foremost autourity on climate issues and had never heard of Prefessor Lindzen.

    .

  27. Whilst all these species have been seen to go extinct, it is remarkable that none have been seen to have evolved into existence during the same period. If species are indeed going extinct faster than they evolve, then by simple arithmetic the earth should be a barren planet by now. This is a strange phenomena.

    Also strange is the way evolution has gone through a number of distinct phases to get where we are, in which each phase has occurred once and once only.

    Every body plan (phylum) that has ever lived came into existence in one brief period known as the cambrian explosion 550 mya. Yet, nature, having experimented, sifted and selected the body plans at that time, has deigned to provide us with any new ones. Weird or what?

    Primates have existed for some tens of millions of years, largely staying much as we see them today. Yet a couple of million years ago, nature decided to experiment with upright, bipedal apes. She crafted all these different forms, each one more upright than the previous, and it is easy to see the selection advantage and why it was so.

    Yet all these highly advanced and innovative forms, bar one, were tossed away. Only one was good enough for the next step – brain enlargement. But why were the others discarded by nature, when the less evolved primates survived unscathed? Weird or what?

  28. I was surprised, when I was reviewing just what is circular reasoning, that I did not come across an intersection with infinite regress.

  29. I think the author goes astray when he compares dispersal with the ‘creative destruction of capitalism’. In nature dispersal is not the complement of a stable unvarying environment. In a stable unvarying environment like the tropical rain forest dispersal and variety are at it’s best Species will disperse and in a stable environment and in time a more complex and biodiverse ecological structure will be build. From an ecological view this environment is not stable at all as species may come and go in varying numbers with physical parameters pretty stable.

    So in the end I agree that as far extinction due to climate change is concerned we still have to wait for even the first example for a mechanism of how this should be working. The examples in literature are not convincing at all.

  30. As noted in the article any climate change (+ or -) will lead to extinction of some species – a process which has been unchanged for millions of years. The major reason for increased extinction rates is human induced overpopulation and stress on resources and habitats.

  31. The new species found in the past 500 years far exceeds the ones gone extinct. Just recently a small jungle cat species was found.

  32. Another portrait in subjectivity is former Climate Commissioner Tim Flannery in “Jellyfish they’re taking over” in speculating that anthropogenic global warming has caused the world jellyfish population to explode.
    ==========
    if climate change leads to extinction, how can climate change lead to an increase in jellyfish?

    Or is Flannery saying that cliamte change leads to extinction of unicorns and butterflies, while increasing species like flies, mosquitoes and jellyfish?

    So now we see, climate change only targets “nice” animals, while helping “nasty” animals.

  33. One of our early computer science projects in school was to model prey-predator populations. In effect you program forcing and feedbacks for animal populations into the computer, such as birth rates and consumption rates, and watch the populations over time.

    What is interesting about these model runs is that they look very much like the IPCC model runs of temperature. You get a spaghetti graph showing all sorts of possible futures for the exact same set of forcings and feedbacks.

    Now most people would understand why this is for populations, but they have a mental block in understand that there is no difference between modelling populations or modelling temperature. One set of forcings and feedbacks gives a near infinite number of possible futures, regardless of whether you are looking at populations or temperature.

    To say that climate change WILL lead to increased extinctions is a nonsense. It will alter the food supply available to the vegetarians, which will alter their birth rate, which will alter the predator birth rate and consumption rate, which will alter the vegetarian consumption rate which will alter the food supply available. And the whole process will cycle, with boom and busts and occasional extinctions. And EVERY TIME you run the model you will get a different result.

  34. after every mass extinction event in the earth’s history there has been an explosion of new species. death is not a mistake by nature, it is an invention of nature to ensure that species can adapt over time. unless the present generation dies they will consume the food required by the next generation, making the next generation less successful and less likely to survive. as it is with generations, so it is with species.

  35. “Whilst all these species have been seen to go extinct, it is remarkable that none have been seen to have evolved into existence during the same period.”
    Animal species evolve rather slowly, so it takes many millenia for a new species to evolve. However plants that can evolve by hybridization and polyploidy are much faster, and several species have indeed been observed evolving during the last few centuries, for example Common Cordgrass Spartina anglica which orihginated in southern England in the mid nineteenth century. Incidentally it is a problem species since it is highly invasive.

  36. I have a paper coming out in early 2014 in Energy & Environment showing that cold climate trees are very tolerant of warming and unlikely to suffer at all.

  37. Dr. Stockwell: “A more objective approach to environmental effects must go beyond the static ‘niche’ concept linking the species and environment, and use more dynamic approaches such as ‘universal neutral theory’ by Hubbard (2011).”

    Did you mean to point to?:

    The Unified Neutral Theory of Biodiversity and Biogeography — By Stephen P. Hubbell 2001

    http://tinyurl.com/ku6ptdp

  38. “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” – Albert Einstein. Science should attempt to avoid delving into fiction as much as possible. We do not even know all the species which are, let alone those that are no longer. At least these analyses should be noted as what they are, pure speculation, including any attempts at putting numerical values on species lost over virtually any time span. Even more ridiculous is any attempt to state the causal variables for such extictions. Too many possible unknown variables.

  39. When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world. – John Muir

    Stockwell says: “The SAR method is biased and decidedly anti-change.”

    Anti-change? Exactly. Look at the niche that includes pikas, for example, they live in a relatively narrow zone above the tree line. What is it, warming 1° C is like moving the tree line 1000 ft higher? What happens when we push them off the top of the mountain into thin air?

    “accentuation of the losers and deprecation of the winners”

    But in reality there are really only losers, right? The “winners” may increase in numbers, but they still remain individual species. The losers are gone, like the dinosaurs.

    And of course SAR works for cooling as well as warming.

  40. [ Pippen Kool says:
    December 6, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Look at the niche that includes pikas, for example, they live in a relatively narrow zone above the tree line. What is it, warming 1° C is like moving the tree line 1000 ft higher? What happens when we push them off the top of the mountain into thin air? ]

    Can you show me the calculations you derived supporting your hypothesis that an “alledged” 1-C increase at surface level is also manifested as 1-C above 10,000 ft?

  41. Vince Causey says:
    December 6, 2013 at 1:17 am
    The observed reality is that Antarctica, the ultimate in stable and minimally varying environment has the least species diversity known on earth.
    =================================

    “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.”

    Vince I never ascribed to that stupid rule…just simply provided an observation that stability resulted in maximal species diversity. In any case, if you had ever lived in a polar environment, you would NEVER characterize the massive temperature swings there as “stable”. plus or minus 40 – 60 degree seasonally is hardly an unchanging environment. Never mind …your example is too dim .. why not mention how the near vacuum of space has little species diversity.

  42. New species evolve much more quickly than many of you seem to think.

    New SNP’s (a mutation of one gene) can dominate in an entire population in less than 25 generations. 25 generations in bacteria is a few hours (should any of you consider that the species concept applies to bacteria). In tropical insects, 25 generations take about a year.

    If the female selects mates on the basis of that SNP, you could have species formation….effectively in a year or so.

  43. ferd berple says: “after every mass extinction event in the earth’s history there has been an explosion of new species.”

    Yes, and it takes millions if not 10s of millions of years to get your explosion going. The geological timescale does not really use k-years as a unit for a reason!!

  44. I read somewhere that 99.9% of all species that have ever existed are now extinct, and I would guess that climate change was not responsible for all of them. As Ferd Berple said above, some species have to make way for new ones to make nature viable.

  45. laterite says:
    December 5, 2013 at 11:58 pm
    Not on any human time frame. I think humans are cuasing an increased rate of extinctions, just not through global warming.
    ==========================
    so what ?

    all species that “arrive” have the potential to cause extinction of those already present. That’s just the way it goes. Root, hog or die, as they say.

    Now if you think those species have some particular value to us, then ok, go for their preservation. However, man has also developed his own menagerie of species that depends more of less on us as a species; consider body, pubic, and head lice, norway rats, dogs, housecats, a litany of diseases, etc LOL.

    Is there some sort of cosmic rule that species can not consume all available energy sources, living space, habitats, come to change all habitats to suit themselves and dominate the biomass on their planet ? They just need to face the consequences is all.

  46. BioBob says: “New SNP’s (a mutation of one gene) can dominate in an entire population in less than 25 generations. 25 generations in bacteria is a few hours (should any of you consider that the species concept applies to bacteria). In tropical insects, 25 generations take about a year.”

    First off, a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism usually doesn’t even have a phenotype, even if it is in a gene.
    Next off, each human baby has about 30 new mutations and we have had about 100 generations since the Romans….we look pretty much the same, or so they say.

    No. Species production is a slow slog, and the roadsigns are tens of thousands of years apart.

  47. [ Pippen Kool says:
    December 6, 2013 at 11:09 am ]

    Oh, you are so right. There were thousands of 7″ humans then.
    All children of Goliath.

  48. What does a phenotype have to do with ANYTHING ? Second, any snp has the potential to result in physical expression. For example, a mutation in one of the two most important genes controlling human hair color, and you could alter that persons hair color…PERIOD.

    Human generation time is a tad longer at 20 years or so… after 20×25 = 500 years of constant selective pressure in a closed population, that hair color would dominate that population. If human females just HAD to mate only with those having that hair color, you would have a new species formed. Those are the facts; to bad if you don’t like them. I have others tho.

    This FACT is why bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics and insects resistance to insecticides. This FACT is why species-races form. This is the stuff of evolution. Reality sux eh ?

  49. to Pippen Kool says:
    December 6, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I just realized you don’t even understand what a SNP is — “even if it is in a gene”

    never mind, go get some education about genetics…I don’t have much, only 3 semesters or so, but I do know what a SNP is – “even it is in a gene” /sarc

  50. BioBob says: “I just realized you don’t even understand what a SNP is never mind, go get some education about genetics…I don’t have much, only 3 semesters or so”

    What a bozo. Did you pass? Or did you just skip that lecture?

    Anyway, for those who care, a SNP can be anywhere in the genome, in genes and in the long regions between genes. They are quite common in most creatures, more than one every 100 nucleotids. That’s why they are so useful, because it’s so easy to identify one either closely linked to your favorite gene or actually in the gene—unless you happen to work in mouse or Drosophila, where the lines are inbred and largely homogenous.

  51. BioBob says: “What does a phenotype have to do with ANYTHING ? Second, any snp has the potential to result in physical expression.”

    Oh. I didn’t read your first faux pas. You really were in the back of the class I guess.

    Most SNPs in genes are silent, that is, they do not change the amino acid sequence of the gene product (which is a protein, BTW), or if they do change an AA, there is still no effect on the activity of the gene product. You should stare at the codon table someday.

    BTW, hair color, my friend is an example of a phenotype.

    And In your hair color example, there is no change in species, just hair color. Or in your world are Norwegians a different species that Ethiopians?

  52. I’ve been trying to figure out why we want to stop all man caused extinctions (other than it’s a feel good, moral, ethical sort of thing) and came up with these reasons (and rebuttals): 1) those extinctions might somehow harm man (though that hasn’t happened despite supposedly runaway man made extinctions) 2) species we really like and need could go extinct (however we have ranches, preserves, botanical gardens, zoos and even gene manipulation to preserve (or recreate) them, not to mention that most animals known to have gone extinct have not been needed/used by man . . . the only animal that went extinct that was used by man that I can think of was the carrier pigeon) 3) some species might provide a cure for disease (some species cause disease, would it hurt man if the tsetse fly went extinct?) 4) extinctions caused by man go against nature (why, is man not a part of nature?) 5) the stopping of extinctions provides an excuse for government to control land use and so us (but then they’d have to fund academics and scientists to prove it’s extremely important to stop those extinctions . . . scientists and academics would never go along with that, right?).

  53. John G. says: “why we want to stop all man caused extinctions (other than it’s a feel good, moral, ethical sort of thing)”

    Well I see where you are going with this, the business man’s approach to ecology, but what’s the matter with that “feel good, moral, ethical sort of thing”. As a kid I always wanted to see a dinosaur. Will some kid some day not ever see a tiger? an elephant? whatever? I mean, you attach nothing special to that, but you aren’t that future kid or actually billions of kids who will never have that opportunity that you did.

    And I think you are referring to “passenger” pigeons? Carrier pigeons are still with us.

  54. Mike M says:
    December 5, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Anticipating an alarmist reply… The human reliance on cheap fossil fuel energy which is threatening the planet with catastrophic global warming is what forced us to deploy windmills that kill protected species of birds and bats, gave us no choice but to cut down forests and rainforests to grow bio-fuel crops and install solar panels that endanger many other animal species and, enticed us to siphon government funds away from worthwhile ecological programs over to ones for “Combating Climate Change”. In other words, all the destruction done in the wake of our righteous effort to mitigate the CAGW threat isn’t our fault at all – it’s the fault of big oil and big coal who created the threat!
    ————————————
    That’s awesome! I likey.

  55. Why is it that some paleo evidence shows that warmer temperatures have increased biodiversity in neo-tropical forests?

    Why is it that hunting, deforestation, pollution, disease can lead to some extinctions when it was the climate ‘wot’ really done it?

    Why didn’t the ice free Arctic ocean of the summer Holocene Climate Optimum didn’t extinct polar bears?

    Why is it that over 95% of species that ever existed on Earth are now extinct?

    Why is it that most species can survive huge swings between winter and summer temperatures?

    Why is it that many species just can’t migrate / move / adapt? Why???

  56. Pippen Kool focuses on long term evolution and ignores adaptation. Show me the shrivelled bodies caused by the 0.8c rise in surface temps? The rest is speculation for the future.

  57. “The Pause” suggests that the whole question is nonsense.
    The science shown at the Idso’s CO2science.org shows quite clearly that warming would have a biodiversity-enhancing effect. The Earth is cold and a little warmer would be better.
    The 1000:1 Funding ratio in favor of alarmists suggests that governments provide more research funds if they are scared and that this is the motive for the observed Religious intensity of the “Church of Global Warming,” and its resistance to facts.
    The claims about extinctions, therefore, are prompted by greed with utter disregard for what results they actually produce. It is merely believed that the (stupid, gullible) public cares about extinctions and will believe anything, and goodness knows why they care about something that could not matter less to the cynical alarmist.

  58. Like climate, and with climate, ecosystems are highly non-linear coupled systems. Great changes occur in populations. A longer winter can wipe out 90% of a population, which can revive and expand within 10 or so years. Change happens,

  59. The first sentence of the TV series of “Life on Earth” Sir David Attenborough is “It is not hard to find a new species.”
    That said,
    I agree with David’s concern for symmetry. If a plot of land or ocean is made uncomfortable for one species, does it not axiomatically become more comfortable for another?

    • Geoff, That is right. At the process level, an extirpation in part of a range due to a climate shift simultaneously makes space available for colonization and range extension by another species. SAR does not account for that, and only counts the extirpation. A more one-eyed approach I have yet to see.

  60. Reading the above one could be forgiven that the current rate of extinction is so small that it is hardly worth worrying about. This is denialist nonsense of the worst sort.

    Why are extinctions from continental land masses being cherrypicked as the baseline for a discussion about whether AGW is an extinction threat?

    Logically, the first locations in which species will more probably go extinct as a consequence of AGW is on islands, not continents. On continents the clines tend to be more extensive and the potential to move north, or south or uphill or downhill much greater than on many islands. In addition areas of habitat tend to be larger, reducing the potential impacts of stochastic events, for example hurricanes, that cand, and do, determine extinctions on islands. (But not the miraculous survival of the Laysan Teal! Nature can be amazingly resilient.)

    There have been hundreds of bird extinctions alone in the past 500 years.

    If you add subspecies extinctions, the number is far greater. And if you consider the loss of within-species genetic variation, the loss has been, quite literally, incalculable, but on first principles, it has been huge. The latter is, of course, one critical element to species’ ability to evolve. Basically, the more within-species genetic variation, the greater the scope for adaptation. Species like cheetahs, which have a genetic bottleneck due to some past event in their genetic history, would have more difficulty adapting to environmental change than, say, lions, which have a much larger genetic variation.

    The degree of environmental change(s) is only one input variable to potential extinctions. But there is very little point in assessing extinction risks in the absence of a framework of anticipated rates of environmental change. The reason is quite basic: slow change gives species opportunities to adapt, to relocate and to radiate. OTOH, rapid change renders extinctions more likely.

    Around a thousand species of birds, or around one species in eight, are thought to be under some threat of extinction. The risk assessments can vary. So can the management responses. So the actual number is quite debatable but the scale of the number could be argued as being reasonable.

    Just because a particular extinction has not happened now does not mean it will not happen in the future. There are several species of birds which are highly visible but are, in fact, functionally extinct because their members are too old to breed.

    The point not addressed in any of the posts above is that the rate of AGW, as well as the scale, may or may not make those thousand potential extinctions more, or less, likely. Nor do they, except in a very general way, address the potential for increases in biodiversity as a result of evolutionary adaptation in response to AGW drivers.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_extinct_birds

  61. climateace: I share your concern with the pace of extinctions over the past 500 years, but my plea is for more objectivity in the conduct of the science, as IMHO the emotional linking of extinction tragedy over the last 500 years to current warming is alarmist and irresponsible. Let me point out where I think your reasoning goes wrong.

    First you need to understand the reason for extinctions over the last 500 years on an ecosystem process level. The paper by Rosindell and Harmon (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jbi.12064/abstract) “A unified model of species immigration, extinction and abundance on islands” is a neutral theory simulation over two main configurations of islands – ‘volcanic origin’ low initial biodiversity and ‘land bridge’ high initial biodiversity. The simulated land bridge is most similar to what has happened on islands over the last 500 years, as initial relatively isolated populations suffer depletion of richness from increases dispersal. Predators like snakes and rats and diseases and rabbits introduced by increased transportation can be seen as a form of an abstract ‘land bridge’. Some islands get their revenge by introducing their own distinct species to the detriment of other places. Anyway, richness of species goes down with increased connectivity between different diverse communities.

    There is no doubt extinctions will continue due to ‘extinction debt’ you mention, as the relaxation to equilibrium from this transportation-induced land bridge occurs.

    Islands in themselves are thought of as ‘dispersal assembled’ not ‘niche assembled’. That is the species present are there by change and not filtered particularly by the environmental conditions. So one could conclude that as climate change is a change in environmental conditions, that island populations will be little affected by changes in climate (as they are ‘dispersal assembled’) and that continental populations will be more affected if they are ‘niche assembled’.

    So by the reasoning above there is reason to think island populations will not be susceptible to climate change. But like your reason, it is only a theory until decent – objective – study is done on it. That counts out one-eyed SAR studies.

    You say: “The degree of environmental change(s) is only one input variable to potential extinctions. But there is very little point in assessing extinction risks in the absence of a framework of anticipated rates of environmental change. The reason is quite basic: slow change gives species opportunities to adapt, to relocate and to radiate. OTOH, rapid change renders extinctions more likely.”

    What is this “framework of anticipated rates of environmental change” of which you speak? You mean the IPCC climate model BS? If you mean estimating the relative risk due to different types of processes on extinction risk, studies have shown the risk from climate change is orders of magnitude less than the well known extinction processes (excluding the bogus SAR climate studies that is).

    As to bringing up the rate of change – people always switch from the magnitude of temperature change to the rate of change argument when they get cornered. But there are plenty of publications on rapid climate change in the past causing little or no extinctions as well. Clearly, at some point the rate of change induces a disequilibrium that the population succumbs to – but it seems like that limit is fairly high (dinosaurs and meteor strikes level?) – except when the populations are highly ‘niche assembled’ such as deep sea diatoms and truly have nowhere to migrate – such as a 5 degree water temperature rise on deep sea diatoms during the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum.

  62. laterite

    Thank you for your polite and reasoned response.

    At one level our discussion will simply be ships passing in the dark: my assessment is that AGW is by far and away the best way to understanding what is happening and will happen to our climate. You don’t.

    That aside:

    (1) ‘As to bringing up the rate of change – people always switch from the magnitude of temperature change to the rate of change argument when they get cornered.’

    I in no way feel ‘cornered’ and suggest that the use of this term is pejorative. My point, that we have to consider both magnitude and rate of change to make understand extinction rates, is robust. In relation to rates of change I note that temporal, geographical and behavioural/phenological responses to changing climate have already been documented for thousands of species of animals and plants, that asynchrony of responses is already creating additional stressors on some species and that, in extinction time scales, decadal rates of response are quite high. The latter point is, of course, a matter of judgement.

    (2) The main point that it is cherry-picking to by picking low (background?) continental rates of extinction over the past several centuries when extinction rates on islands are clearly going to be the canary in the coalmine vis-a-vis AGW, stands.

    (3) Of course island biota are going to be susciptible to AGW stressors. The ways in which they will do so are numerous. The probability of storm surges over-topping low-lying atolls are already off a higher sea level base. Some individual islands, and island groups, are going to disappear altogether, taking their entire biota with them in mass local extinctions. The biota of some islands depends to some extent on guano nutrients off-setting heavy leaching rains. There will be an impact on changing chemical composition of oceans combined with the impact of changing SSTs on baitfish/pelagic bird populations. Fire probabilities of island forests will change – with many island forests being extremely vulnerable to fire.

    (4) Dispersal-assembled biota depend highly on time for dispersal events to occur and to take. It is clear that ‘super-species’ like the silve-eye complex are more likely to disperse effectively than most other species. So it is possible on some islands to see two or three arrival events reflected in the zosterops speciation in the island. Depend on the combination of wind, distance to source and currents, some islands received very, very few new successful arrivals at all. The basic point stands: the rate of change of environmental factors is crucial.

    Discussion about extinction rates needs to take into account both the magnitude and the rate of change. Most of the posts in the above string fail to do this.

  63. climateace: I am willing to continue to talk through these issues objectively and endeavor to leave the years of being called a ‘denier’ behind. For this discussion the ’cause’ of warming is secondary to the warming itself, and so disagreements about the relative magnitude of CO2 vs solar effects can be largely put aside in population dynamics questions.

    Thanks for labeling your points numerically.
    (1) “I note that temporal, geographical and behavioural/phenological responses to changing climate have already been documented for thousands of species of animals and plants, that asynchrony of responses is already creating additional stressors on some species and that, in extinction time scales, decadal rates of response are quite high. The latter point is, of course, a matter of judgement.”

    I agree with this assessment of the literature, but I would interpret this as a normal property of evolutionary successful species to adapt to change. This leads to increased competitive disequilibrium in some species at the of their ranges, that could be an unrealized ‘debt’ but not to the extinction of the species as they have expanded in the cooler part of their range.

    (2) “The main point that it is cherry-picking to by picking low (background?) continental rates of extinction over the past several centuries when extinction rates on islands are clearly going to be the canary in the coalmine vis-a-vis AGW, stands.”

    Is this a private theory as I would be interested to see any scholarly support for the view that island extinctions are indicative of AGW? The opposite is the case in the literature, with the idea that islands are ‘dispersal assembled’ not ‘niche assembled’ and so would be the least likely to respond to environmental changes.

    For example: Peter Pockley Source: Nature. 410.6829 (Apr. 5, 2001):
    “The first survey for a decade of animals and plants on Australia’s Heard Island, 4,000 kilometres southwest of Perth, has unearthed dramatic evidence of global warming’s ecological impact.Dana Bergstrom, an ecologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, who led the survey’s study of plant life, says areas that were previously poorly vegetated are now “lush with large expanses of plants”.Populations of birds, fur seals and insects have also expanded rapidly since earlier studies, says Eric Woehler of the Australian Antarctic Division at Kingston, Tasmania, part of Australia’s environment department. According to Woehler, the number of king penguins has exploded from only three breeding pairs in 1947 to 25,000, while the Heard Island cormorant, listed previously as “vulnerable”, has increased to 1,200 pairs. From near extinction, fur seals now number 28,000 adults and 1,000 pups.”

    (3 and 4) as above. Please cite papers.

    Returning to the main point of my article — that I would really like to see someone devend — I have yet to see anyone even attempt to justify, let alone provide a coherent argument, for the estimation of extinctions rates by cherry-picking the losers in the environmental change lotto. There are many studies like the above identifying areas where species have benefited from the more benign conditions brought on by climate change. I understand that some species may be identified at risk due to loss of suitable habitat, and that this risk can potentially be attributed to AGW. But it is flawed logic and incomprehensible to me to infer that it follows that AGW will cause a net detrimental effect such as increase in extinction or extinction debt by cherry-picking the losers.

  64. brent, intellectuals are not necessarily intelligent. From personal experience and observation I can say they are usually not.

    • climateace: I am willing to continue to talk through these issues objectively and endeavor to leave the years of being called a ‘denier’ behind. For this discussion the ’cause’ of warming is secondary to the warming itself, and so disagreements about the relative magnitude of CO2 vs solar effects can be largely put aside in population dynamics questions.

      Thanks for labeling your points numerically. (1) “I note that temporal, geographical and behavioural/phenological responses to changing climate have already been documented for thousands of species of animals and plants, that asynchrony of responses is already creating additional stressors on some species and that, in extinction time scales, decadal rates of response are quite high. The latter point is, of course, a matter of judgement.”

      I agree with this assessment of the literature, but I would interpret this as a normal property of evolutionary successful species to adapt to change. This leads to increased competitive disequilibrium in some species at the of their ranges, that could be an unrealized ‘debt’ but not to the extinction of the species as they have expanded in the cooler part of their range.

      (2) “The main point that it is cherry-picking to by picking low (background?) continental rates of extinction over the past several centuries when extinction rates on islands are clearly going to be the canary in the coalmine vis-a-vis AGW, stands.”

      Is this a private theory as I would be interested to see any scholarly support for the view that island extinctions are indicative of AGW? The opposite is the case in the literature, with the idea that islands are ‘dispersal assembled’ not ‘niche assembled’ and so would be the least likely to respond to environmental changes.

      For example: Peter Pockley Source: Nature. 410.6829 (Apr. 5, 2001): “The first survey for a decade of animals and plants on Australia’s Heard Island, 4,000 kilometres southwest of Perth, has unearthed dramatic evidence of global warming’s ecological impact.Dana Bergstrom, an ecologist at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, who led the survey’s study of plant life, says areas that were previously poorly vegetated are now “lush with large expanses of plants”.Populations of birds, fur seals and insects have also expanded rapidly since earlier studies, says Eric Woehler of the Australian Antarctic Division at Kingston, Tasmania, part of Australia’s environment department. According to Woehler, the number of king penguins has exploded from only three breeding pairs in 1947 to 25,000, while the Heard Island cormorant, listed previously as “vulnerable”, has increased to 1,200 pairs. From near extinction, fur seals now number 28,000 adults and 1,000 pups.”

      (3 and 4) as above. Please cite papers.

      Returning to the main point of my article — that I would really like to see someone devend — I have yet to see anyone even attempt to justify, let alone provide a coherent argument, for the estimation of extinctions rates by cherry-picking the losers in the environmental change lotto. There are many studies like the above identifying areas where species have benefited from the more benign conditions brought on by climate change. I understand that some species may be identified at risk due to loss of suitable habitat, and that this risk can potentially be attributed to AGW. But it is flawed logic and incomprehensible to me to infer that it follows that AGW will cause a net detrimental effect such as increase in extinction or extinction debt by cherry-picking the losers.

      On Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 5:42 AM, Watts Up With That? wrote:

      > Edohiguma commented: “brent, intellectuals are not necessarily > intelligent. From personal experience and observation I can say they are > usually not.” >

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