Move fast or die is outlook for species as habitats are threatened

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PLANTS and animals on the run from climate change will need to move at an average rate of a quarter of a mile a year to remain in their habitats over the course of this century, say scientists.

For species in flat, low-lying regions such as deserts, grasslands, and coastal areas, the necessary pace could be more than half a mile a year. Creatures and plants only able to tolerate a narrow range of temperatures will be most vulnerable.

Those unable to move to escape the effects of global warming could vanish into extinction. Plants in almost a third of the habitats studied were thought to fall into this category, a report in the journal Nature said.

Dr Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology in California, said: "Expressed as velocities, climate-change projections connect directly to survival prospects for plants and animals."

The researchers forecast that climate conditions in less than 10 per cent of protected habitats around the world will be the same in 100 years as they are now.

This is expected to present a problem for many species.

"When we look at residence times for protected areas, which we define as the amount of time it will take current climate conditions to move across and out of a given protected area, only 8 per cent of our current protected areas have residence times of more than 100 years," said Dr Healy Hamilton, director of the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Informatics at the California Academy of Sciences, who took part in the research.

"If we want to improve these numbers, we need to both reduce our carbon emissions and work quickly toward expanding and connecting our global network of protected areas."

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