The impact of climate change on islands

Study suggests that shifts in sea level and temperature may lead to deep collapse of phylogenetic diversity in islands worldwide

Data resources used via GBIF : 2,550,396 species occurrences
Cocos nucifera
Coconut trees (Cocos nucifera) observed in Isla de la Juventud, Cuba by gregoram2019. Photo via iNaturalist (CC BY-NC 4.0)

Having evolved in isolation, islands represent unique communities with extremely high rates of endemism—exceeding mainland species almost tenfold. This uniqueness, however, also makes insular communities especially vulnerable to rapid changes—such as climate change—caused by human activities.

To understand the impact a changing climate may have on islands, this study investigated relative vulnerability of monocots, a major group of flowering plants with many taxa of high economic value (e.g. palms and bananas).

Analysing 1,497 monocot genera distributed across 5,565 islands worldwide, the authors calculated the overall vulnerability of all islands to shifts in sea level, temperature and rainfall, and linked this to the expected phylogenetic diversity, derived from assessing 2.5 million GBIF-mediated occurrences, and the losses hereto, estimated by climate-induced local extinctions.

The most vulnerable islands were mainly situated at low latitudes and/or in the Southern Hemisphere, while the highest phylogenetic losses estimated mainly occurred in the eastern part of the world. Considering both factors, the study highlights Cuba and New Guinea as highly vulnerable, both representing large phylogenetic diversity at stake.

Original article

Veron S, Mouchet M, Govaerts R, Haevermans T and Pellens R (2019) Vulnerability to climate change of islands worldwide and its impact on the tree of life. Scientific Reports. Springer Science and Business Media LLC 9(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-51107-x