ANIMALS threatened with extinction because of climate change should be moved to parts of the world where they are more likely to survive, a team of scientists suggested today.
The controversial idea could be the only way to stop some species dying out, according to the authors of a report in the journal Science.
Species the scientists think could benefit from being moved include the possum in Australia, coral in the Great Barrier Reef and even giant pandas.
But some conservation groups have reacted with horror to the report – entitled Moving with the Times: Assisted Colonisation and Rapid Climate Change – because in the past introducing alien species has harmed native animals.
Professor Chris Thomas, from the University of York, one of the report authors, thinks that as the UK warms up, it could provide a perfect habitat for many threatened species, including:
• The Spanish imperial eagle. Its home in Spain and Portugal is becoming too hot but the south of England could provide a good habitat because it has an abundance of rabbits.
• Pyrenean desman. The mole-like mammal could soon be at risk as its habitat in the Pyrenees, northern Spain and Portugal heats up. Scotland could provide a better environment, as it likes streams and eats insects.
• Map butterfly. The amount of nettles in southern England could provide an ideal habitat for this butterfly, which lives in other parts of Europe.
• Iberian lynx. This very rare animal, which lives in the Iberian peninsular, could fit in well in Scotland, which used to have its own native species.
Prof Thomas thinks there would be a need for thorough risk assessments before any species was moved, but added: "Not to act may represent a decision to allow a species to dwindle to extinction."
Dr Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas, another author, said not moving species beyond their current continent would help ensure were not invasive. There were clearly species that could not be moved, she added. "Transplanting polar bears to Antarctica, where they would likely drive native penguins to extinction, would not be acceptable."
However John Baxter, policy and advice unit manager at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: "I don't think it's something that at the moment we would ever contemplate at all."
He said the arrival of other non-native species, such as the North American crayfish, giant hogweed and grey squirrel, had caused havoc to Scotland's native wildlife. "We simply do not understand the biology and the ecology of intentionally introducing species," he added.
But Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland,
said: "I think it's something we need to contemplate. It's the measure of the desperate straits we are going to get into because of climate change that we now need to consider it."