Evidence type: Research
Climate change affects biodiversity in many ways. Impacts on species include changes in distribution and abundance, the timing of seasonal events and habitat use and, as a consequence there are likely to be changes in the composition of plant and animal communities. Habitats and ecosystems are also likely to change character by, for example, showing altered water regimes, increased rates of decomposition in bogs and higher growth rates in forests.
Biodiversity also has an important role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. For example, soils, forests and oceans hold vast stores of carbon. The way managed habitats are used will affect how much of that carbon is released in gaseous form into the atmosphere. How we address climate change and maintain healthy ecosystems so that they provide ecosystem goods and services essential for human well-being is now a key challenge for society. Understanding the ongoing impacts of climate change on ecosystems is an essential prerequisite to addressing this challenge.
This booklet covers impacts in the marine, terrestrial and freshwater environments. It brings together information from published sources to give an overview of the evidence of climate change impacts on the natural environment of the UK.
For example, soils, forests and oceans hold vast stores of carbon. The way managed habitats are used will affect how much of that carbon is released in gaseous form into the atmosphere. How we address climate change and maintain healthy ecosystems so that they provide ecosystem goods and services essential for human well-being is now a key challenge for society.
Forests and woodlands, which cover 12% of the total UK land area (Broadmeadow 2004), hold the majority of carbon stored in above ground vegetation, estimated to be around 130 megatonnes (Mt) (Broadmeadow
In the north-east Atlantic, both warm-water and cold-water plankton have moved northwards by approximately 1000 km (MCCIP 2008). Such changes could have important consequences for other marine wildlife, especially fish larvae and subsequently fisheries stocks (Edwards et al. 2008), including cod, Gadus morhua (Beaugrand et al. 2003).
In some cases, climate change is contributing to habitat loss through a process known as 'coastal squeeze', as coastal habitats are unable to move inland in response to rising sea levels because of fixed man-made structures such as seawalls.
For example, many plants are coming into leaf and flowering earlier in the year, migratory birds are arriving earlier in the UK and leaving later, butterflies are appearing earlier in the spring, and many birds are laying eggs earlier in the year. These phenological changes may mean that the life cycles of some species are no longer synchronised with those of species on which they depend (e.g. food plants and prey species) with potential changes in competitive advantage arising between species