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New Global Warming Study Indicates Potentially Serious Impact for US Ecosystems


Following a major report this week that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change has published a study about the impact of warming temperatures in the United States. The findings indicate potentially serious impact on American ecosystems and wildlife.

The Pew Center report is based on a broad range of scientific studies that link warming temperatures in the United States with observed ecological changes. Studies show, for example, that butterflies are moving north and to higher altitudes and that some have disappeared altogether in the southern end of their regions. The red fox is expanding north into the range of the arctic fox and warm-water fish are entering the waters off California coast an area previously dominated by cold-water fish.

The report says such migrations could alter competition and predator-prey relationships. Co-author Hector Galbraith of the University of Colorado says the basic functions of the ecosystem are at stake. "We might like to think of pollination [and reproduction] of plants as an ecosystem function. If communities (of plants and animals) dissociate or split apart under climate change, ecosystems may lose that capability because plants and animals migrate at different rates. Also climate change can effect the rates at which chemical reactions occur within ecosystems and thereby effect nutrient cycling and carbon cycling," he says.

Mr. Galbraith says public attention has focused on the endangered status of the spotted owl and snail darter and not on changes in more common species. For example the Mexican jay and tree swallows have experienced changes in their reproductive cycles which could undermine their ability to adapt. "I think that it provides a very clear signal that people take seriously that it is not just about spotted owls and snail darters, it is about widespread ecological environmental effects. The canaries in the coal mine are squawking, and we should take that seriously," he says.

The United States pulled its support from the Kyoto Protocol the U.N. sponsored global climate change agreement - shortly after President Bush took office four years ago.

Some 40 states have enacted policies to help curb carbon emissions from power plants and cars. Pew Center President Eileen Claussen says the report calls on decision-makers to make greater efforts to minimize the impact of climate change.

She says the Pew report makes two major recommendations. "One is that we have to start taking action to reduce emissions, and I should say what is happening on the state level good as it is is not enough. We need a nation program and a more robust international program as well. The report also urges governments to take into account and to try to help species to adapt at the same time that we try to reduce emissions so the problem does not get so much worse. [It will take] political will and money. It is not all about projections of what might happen in the future. It is about what is beginning to happen now and the rate of change is so much greater than we thought and I do think that this should get policy makers to actually want to do something about this problem," he says.

Eileen Claussen says it is unlikely that the White House will shift its policy on climate change. However, she does see some hopeful signs among Republican leaders.

New York Governor George Pataki and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger favor policies that address climate change. So does Senator John McCain, a Bush supporter who some political analysts say might make a run for the White House in 2008.

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