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Study: Humans Might Need to "Assist Evolution" as Climate Change Worsens

Warmer winters in the Northwest due to climate change could mean more damage from species such as pine beetle. (Don Becker/U.S. Geological Survey)
Warmer winters in the Northwest due to climate change could mean more damage from species such as pine beetle. (Don Becker/U.S. Geological Survey)
November 15, 2016

SEATTLE – Many of the effects of climate change scientists did not expect to happen for decades into the future are happening now. According to a new study in the journal Science, researchers found that every ecosystem on Earth is being impacted by a warming globe, from the genetic level up.

One of the studies' co-authors, Doctor Tara Martin, a professor at the University of British Columbia, said of the 94 ecological processes studied, more than 80 percent already have been affected by climate change. She said that includes the forests of the Northwest.

"One of the impacts of warmer winters has been this emergence of insect pathogens, insects that are native to North America but that are now super abundant and they're having a huge influence on the forest resources," she explained.

Martin said those insects include pine beetles and spruce beetles, which introduce deadly fungi to trees.

Researchers also found that species have been moving closer to the poles as temperatures rise. Marine animals have moved north at a rate of more than 40 miles per decade and land animals at nearly 4 miles per decade. They also found changes in migration patterns and the range sizes of certain species.

Martin said genetic diversity in many regions has decreased and when it comes to food production, humans might need to "assist evolution" to ensure agriculture can adapt to the changing environment. She also said while an increase in the global temperature of one or two degrees Celsius is inevitable, there's still time to avert warming beyond that.

"The fear is that if we don't act now, we could go to something more extreme and dangerous, up to even four degrees, and that is catastrophic," she said. "Not only for our ecosystems and species but ultimately it's catastrophic for us. And so that's what we need to avoid, and that's what we have time to avoid."

Martin said in order to do that, countries should move away from fossil fuels and toward renewable-energy sources and protect and restore ecosystems such as lakes, streams and forests, which can provide hazard reduction to destructive weather patterns.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA