Box 43 Polar bears a species in peril

There are an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears (Ursus maritimus) worldwide, mostly inhabiting the annual sea ice over the continental shelves and inter-island archipelagos of the circumpolar Arctic, where they may wander for thousands of kilometres per year. They are specialised predators on ice-breeding seals and are therefore dependent on sea ice for survival. Female bears require nourishment after emerging in spring from a 5 to 7 month fast in nursing dens (Ramsay and Stirling, 1988), and are thus very dependent on close proximity between land and sea ice before it breaks up. Continuous access to sea ice allows bears to hunt throughout the year, but in areas where the sea ice melts completely each summer, they are forced to spend several months in tundra fasting on stored fat reserves until freeze-up.

Polar bears face great challenges from the effects of climatic warming (Stirling and Derocher, 1993; Stirling et al., 1999; Derocher et al., 2004), as projected reductions in sea ice will drastically shrink marine habitat for polar bears, ice-inhabiting seals and other animals (Hassol, 2004b). Break-up of the sea ice on the western Hudson Bay, Canada, already occurs about 3 weeks earlier than in the early 1970s, resulting in polar bears in this area coming ashore earlier with reduced fat reserves (a 15% decline in body condition), fasting for longer periods of time and having reduced productivity (Stirling et al., 1999). Preliminary estimates suggest that the Western Hudson Bay population has declined from 1,200 bears in 1987 to fewer than 950 in 2004. Although these changes are specific to one sub-population, similar impacts on other sub-populations of polar bears can be reasonably expected. In 2005, the IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group concluded that the IUCN Red List classification of the polar bear should be upgraded from Least Concern to Vulnerable based on the likelihood of an overall decline in the size of the total population of more than 30% within the next 35 to 50 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also considering a petition to list the polar bear as a threatened species based in part on future risks to the species from climate change. If sea ice declines according to some projections (Meehl et al., 2007, Figure 10.13; Figure 4.4, Table 4.1) polar bears will face a high risk of extinction with warming of 2.8°C above pre-industrial (range 2.5-3.0°C, Table 4.1, No. 42). Similar consequences are facing other ice-dependent species, not only in the Arctic but also in the Antarctic (Chapter 1; Barbraud and Weimerskirch, 2001; Croxall et al., 2002).

migration rates (Section 4.4.5), changes in hydrology, fire, insect pest outbreaks and human impacts relevant to the carbon cycle are poorly represented (see also Sections 4.4.1 and 4.4.5).

4.4.7 Mountains

Properties, goods and services

Mountain regions (circa 20-24% of all land, scattered throughout the globe) exhibit many climate types corresponding to widely separated latitudinal belts within short horizontal distances. Consequently, although species richness decreases with elevation, mountain regions support many different ecosystems and have among the highest species richness globally (e.g., Väre et al., 2003; Moser et al., 2005; Spehn and Körner, 2005). Mountain ecosystems have a significant role in biospheric carbon storage and carbon sequestration, particularly in semi-arid and arid areas (e.g., the western U.S., - Schimel et al., 2002; Tibetan plateau - Piao et al., 2006). Mountain ecosystem services such as water purification and climate regulation extend beyond their geographical boundaries and affect all continental mainlands (e.g., Woodwell, 2004). Local key services allow habitability of mountain areas, e.g. through slope stabilisation and protection from natural disasters such as avalanches and rockfall. Mountains increasingly serve as refuges from direct human impacts for many endemic species. They provide many goods for subsistence livelihoods, are home to many indigenous peoples, and are attractive for recreational activities and tourism. Critically, mountains harbour a significant fraction of biospheric carbon (28% of forests are in mountains).

Key vulnerabilities

The TAR identified mountain regions as having experienced above-average warming in the 20th century, a trend likely to continue (Beniston et al., 1997; Liu and Chen, 2000). Related impacts included an earlier and shortened snow-melt period, with rapid water release and downstream floods which, in combination with reduced glacier extent, could cause water shortage during the growing season. The TAR suggested that these impacts may be exacerbated by ecosystem degradation pressures such as land-use changes, over-grazing, trampling, pollution, vegetation destabilisation and soil losses, in particular in highly diverse regions such as the Caucasus and Himalayas (Gitay et al., 2001). While adaptive capacities were generally considered limited, high vulnerability was attributed to the many highly endemic alpine biota (Pauli et al., 2003). Since the TAR, the literature has confirmed a disproportionately high risk of extinction for many endemic species in various mountain ecosystems, such as tropical montane cloud forests or forests in other tropical regions on several continents (Williams et al., 2003; Pounds and Puschendorf, 2004; Andreone et al., 2005; Pounds et al., 2006), and globally where habitat loss due to warming threatens endemic species (Pauli et al., 2003; Thuiller etal., 2005b).


Because temperature decreases with altitude by 5-10°C/km, relatively short-distanced upward migration is required for persistence (e.g., MacArthur, 1972; Beniston, 2000; Theurillat and Guisan, 2001). However, this is only possible for the warmer climatic and ecological zones below mountain peaks (Gitay et al., 2001; Penuelas and Boada, 2003). Mountain ridges, by contrast, represent considerable obstacles to dispersal for many species which tends to constrain movements to slope upward migration (e.g., Foster, 2001; Lischke et al., 2002; Neilson et al., 2005; Pounds et al., 2006). The latter necessarily reduces a species' geographical range (mountain tops are smaller than their bases). This is expected to reduce genetic diversity within species and to increase the risk of stochastic extinction due to ancillary stresses (Peters and Darling, 1985; Gottfried et al., 1999), a hypothesis confirmed by recent genetic analysis showing gene drift effects from past climate changes (e.g., Alsos et al., 2005; Bonin et al., 2006). A reshuffling of species on altitude gradients is to be expected as a consequence of individualistic species responses that are mediated by varying longevities and survival rates. These in turn are the result of a high degree of evolutionary specialisation to harsh mountain climates (e.g., Theurillat et al., 1998; Gottfried et al., 1999; Theurillat and Guisan, 2001; Dullinger et al., 2005; Klanderud, 2005; Klanderud and Totland, 2005; Huelber et al., 2006), and in some cases they include effects induced by invading alien species (e.g., Dukes and Mooney, 1999; Mack et al., 2000). Genetic evidence for Fagus sylvatica, e.g., suggests that populations may show some capacity for an in situ adaptive response to climate change (Jump et al., 2006). However, ongoing distributional changes (Penuelas and Boada, 2003) show that this response will not necessarily allow this species to persist throughout its range.

Upper tree lines, which represent the interface between subalpine forests and low-stature alpine meadows, have long been thought to be partly controlled by carbon balance (Stevens and Fox, 1991). This hypothesis has been challenged (Hoch and Körner, 2003; Körner, 2003a). Worldwide, cold tree lines appear to be characterised by seasonal mean air temperatures of circa 6°C (Körner, 1998; Körner, 2003a; Grace et al., 2002; Körner and Paulsen, 2004; Millar et al., 2004; Lara et al., 2005; Zha et al., 2005). In many mountains, the upper tree line is located below its potential climatic position because of grazing, or disturbances such as wind or fire. In other regions such as the Himalaya, deforestation of past decades has transformed much of the environment and has led to fragmented ecosystems (Becker and Bugmann, 2001). Although temperature control may be a dominant determinant of geographical range, tree species may be unable to migrate and keep pace with changing temperature zones (Shiyatov, 2003; Dullinger et al., 2004; Wilmking et al., 2004).

Where warmer and drier conditions are projected, mountain vegetation is expected to be subject to increased evapotranspiration (Ogaya et al., 2003; Jasper et al., 2004; Rebetez and Dobbertin, 2004; Stampfli and Zeiter, 2004; Jolly et al., 2005; Zierl and Bugmann, 2005; Pederson et al., 2006). This leads to increased drought, which has been projected to induce forest dieback in continental climates, particularly in the interior of mountain ranges (e.g., Fischlin and Gyalistras, 1997; Lischke et al., 1998; Lexer et al., 2000; Bugmann et al., 2005), and mediterranean areas. Even in humid tropical regions, plants and animals have been shown to be sensitive to water stress on mountains (e.g., Borneo - Kitayama, 1996; Costa Rica - Still et al., 1999). There is very high confidence that warming is a driver of amphibian mass extinctions at many highland localities, by creating increasingly favourable conditions for the pathogenic Batrachochytrium fungus (Pounds et al., 2006).

The duration and depth of snow cover, often correlated with mean temperature and precipitation (Keller et al., 2005; Monson et al., 2006), is a key factor in many alpine ecosystems (Körner, 2003c; Daimaru and Taoda, 2004). A lack of snow cover exposes plants and animals to frost and influences water supply in spring (Keller et al., 2005). If animal movements are disrupted by changing snow patterns, as has been found in Colorado (Inouye et al., 2000), increased wildlife mortality may result. At higher altitudes, the increased winter precipitation likely to accompany warming leads to greater snowfall, so that earlier arriving altitudinal migrants are confronted with delayed snowmelt (Inouye et al., 2000).

Disturbances such as avalanches, rockfall, fire, wind and herbivore damage interact and are strongly dependent on climate (e.g., Penuelas and Boada, 2003; Whitlock et al., 2003; Beniston and Stephenson, 2004; Cairns and Moen, 2004; Carroll et al., 2004; Hodar and Zamora, 2004; Kajimoto et al., 2004; Pierce et al., 2004; Schoennagel et al., 2004; Schumacher et al., 2004). These effects may prevent recruitment and thus limit adaptive migration responses of species, and are exacerbated by human land use and other anthropogenic pressures (e.g., Lawton et al., 2001; Dirnböck et al., 2003; Huber et al., 2005).

Ecotonal (see Glossary) sensitivity to climate change, such as upper tree lines in mountains (e.g., Camarero et al., 2000; Walther et al., 2001; Diaz, 2003; Sanz-Elorza et al., 2003), has shown that populations of several mountain-restricted species are likely to decline (e.g., Beever et al., 2003; Florenzano, 2004). The most vulnerable ecotone species are those that are genetically poorly adapted to rapid environmental change, reproduce slowly, disperse poorly, and are isolated or highly specialised, because of their high sensitivity to environmental stresses (McNeely, 1990). Recent findings for Europe, despite a spatially coarse analysis, indicate that mountain species are disproportionately sensitive to climate change (about 60% species loss - Thuiller et al., 2005b). Substantial biodiversity losses are likely if human pressures on mountain biota occur in addition to climate change impacts (Pounds et al., 1999, 2006; Lawton et al., 2001; Pounds, 2001; Halloy and Mark, 2003; Peterson, 2003; Solorzano et al., 2003; Pounds and Puschendorf, 2004).

4.4.8 Freshwater wetlands, lakes and rivers

Properties, goods and services

Inland aquatic ecosystems (covering about 10.3 Mkm2) vary greatly in characteristics and global distribution. The majority of natural freshwater lakes are located in the higher latitudes, most artificial lakes occur in mid- and lower latitudes, and many saline lakes occur at altitudes up to 5,000 m, especially in the Himalaya and Tibet. The majority of natural wetlands (peatlands) are in the boreal region but most managed wetlands (rice paddies) are in the tropics and sub-tropics (where peatlands also occur). Global estimates of the area under rivers, lakes and wetlands vary greatly depending upon definition (Finlayson et al., 2005). This chapter follows the TAR in considering 'wetlands' as distinct from rivers and lakes. Wetlands encompass a most heterogeneous spectrum of habitats following hydrological and nutrient gradients, and all key processes, including goods and services provided, depend on the catchment level hydrology. Inland waters are subject to many pressures from human activities. Aquatic ecosystems provide a wide range of goods and services (Gitay et al., 2001; Finlayson et al., 2005). Wetlands are often biodiversity 'hotspots' (Reid et al., 2005), as well as functioning as filters for pollutants from both point and non-point sources, and being important for carbon sequestration and emissions (Finlayson et al., 2005). Rivers transport water and nutrients from the land to the oceans and provide crucial buffering capacity during drought spells especially if fed by mountain springs and glaciers (e.g., European summer 2003; Box 4.1; Chapter 12, Section 12.6.1). Closed lakes serve as sediment and carbon sinks (Cohen, 2003), providing crucial repositories of information on past climate changes.

Key vulnerabilities

Gitay et al. (2001) have described some inland aquatic ecosystems (Arctic, sub-Arctic ombrotrophic bog communities on permafrost, depressional wetlands with small catchments, drained or otherwise converted peatlands) as most vulnerable to climate change, and have indicated the limits to adaptations due to the dependence on water availability controlled by outside factors. More recent results show vulnerability varying by geographical region (Van Dam et al., 2002; Stern, 2007). This includes significant negative impacts across 25% of Africa by 2100 (SRES B1 emissions scenario, de Wit and Stankiewicz, 2006) with both water quality and ecosystem goods and services deteriorating. Since it is generally difficult and costly to control hydrological regimes, the interdependence between catchments across national borders often leaves little scope for adaptation.


Climate change impacts on inland aquatic ecosystems will range from the direct effects of the rise in temperature and CO2 concentration to indirect effects through alterations in the hydrology resulting from the changes in the regional or global precipitation regimes and the melting of glaciers and ice cover (e.g., Chapters 1 and 3; Cubasch et al., 2001; Lemke et al., 2007; Meehl et al., 2007).

Studies since the TAR have confirmed and strengthened the earlier conclusions that rising temperature will lower water quality in lakes through a fall in hypolimnetic (see Glossary) oxygen concentrations, release of phosphorus (P) from sediments, increased thermal stability, and altered mixing patterns (McKee et al., 2003; Verburg et al., 2003; Winder and Schindler, 2004; Jankowski et al., 2006). In northern latitudes, ice cover on lakes and rivers will continue to break up earlier and the ice-free periods to increase (Chapter 1; Weyhenmeyer et al., 2004; Duguay et al., 2006). Higher temperatures will negatively affect micro-organisms and benthic invertebrates (Kling et al., 2003) and the distribution of many species of fish (Lake et al., 2000; Poff et al., 2002; Kling et al., 2003);

invertebrates, waterfowl and tropical invasive biota are likely to shift polewards (Moss et al., 2003; Zalakevicius and Svazas, 2005) with some potential extinctions (Jackson and Mandrak, 2002; Chu et al., 2005). Major changes will be likely to occur in the species composition, seasonality and production of planktonic communities (e.g., increases in toxic blue-green algal blooms) and their food web interactions (Gerten and Adrian, 2002; Kling et al., 2003; Winder and Schindler, 2004) with consequent changes in water quality (Weyhenmeyer, 2004). Enhanced UV-B radiation and increased summer precipitation will significantly increase dissolved organic carbon (DOC, see Glossary) concentrations, altering major biogeochemical cycles (Zepp et al., 2003; Phoenix and Lee, 2004; Frey and Smith, 2005). Studies along an altitudinal gradient in Sweden show that NPP can increase by an order of magnitude for a 6°C air temperature increase (Karlsson et al., 2005). However, tropical lakes may respond with a decrease in NPP and a decline in fish yields (e.g., 20% NPP and 30% fish yield reduction in Lake Tanganyika due to warming over the last century - O'Reilly et al., 2003). Higher CO2 levels will generally increase NPP in many wetlands, although in bogs and paddy fields it may also stimulate methane flux, thereby negating positive effects (Ziska et al., 1998; Schrope et al., 1999; Freeman et al., 2004; Megonigal et al., 2005; Zheng et al., 2006).

Boreal peatlands will be affected most by warming (see also Sections 4.4.5 and 4.4.6) and increased winter precipitation as the species composition of both plant and animal communities will change significantly (Weltzin et al., 2000, 2001, 2003; Berendse et al., 2001; Keller et al., 2004; Sections 4.4.5 and 4.4.6). Numerous arctic lakes will dry out with a 2-3°C temperature rise (Smith et al., 2005; Symon et al., 2005). The seasonal migration patterns and routes of many wetland species will need to change and some may be threatened with extinction (Inkley et al., 2004; Finlayson et al., 2005; Reid et al., 2005; Zalakevicius and Svazas, 2005; Box 4.5).

Small increases in the variability of precipitation regimes will significantly impact wetland plants and animals at different stages of their life cycle (Keddy, 2000). In monsoonal regions, increased variability risks diminishing wetland biodiversity and prolonged dry periods promote terrestrialisation of wetlands as witnessed in Keoladeo National Park, India (Chauhan and Gopal, 2001; Gopal and Chauhan, 2001). In dryland wetlands, changes in precipitation regimes may cause biodiversity loss (Bauder, 2005). Changes in climate and land use will place additional pressures on already-stressed riparian ecosystems along many rivers in the world (Naiman et al., 2005). An increase or decrease in freshwater flows will also affect coastal wetlands (Chapter 6) by altering salinity, sediment inputs and nutrient loadings (Schallenberg et al., 2001; Flöder and Burns, 2004).

4.4.9 Oceans and shallow seas

Properties, goods and services

Oceans cover over 71% of the Earth's surface area from polar to tropical regions to a mean depth of 4,000 m, comprising about 14 billion km3, are a massive reservoir of inorganic carbon, yet contain only 698-708 Pg organic carbon, 13-23 Pg of which is in living and dead biomass (Figure 4.1; Denman et al., 2007, Section Despite low biomass, phytoplankton carries out almost half of global primary production, and is the basis of the marine food web (Field et al., 1998). Substantial biodiversity exists in both pelagic and benthic realms and along coastlines, in a diverse range of ecosystems from highly productive (e.g., upwelling regions) to those with low productivity (e.g., oceanic gyres). Ocean primary productivity depends on sunlight and nutrients supplied from deep waters (Sarmiento et al., 2004a). Marine ecosystems provide goods and services such as fisheries, provision of energy, recreation and tourism, CO2 sequestration and climate regulation, decomposition of organic matter and regeneration of nutrients and coastal protection - many of which are critical to the functioning of the Earth system (Chapter 5; Costanza et al., 1997; McLean et al., 2001, Sections 6.3.2,6.3.4, 6.3.5, 6.4.5 and 6.4.6; Hassan et al., 2005, Table 18.2). Marine biodiversity supports ecosystem function and the services it provides (Worm et al., 2006) with over 1 billion people relying on fish as their main animal protein source, especially in developing nations (Pauly et al., 2005). Coastal zones, particularly low-lying areas, and the highly valuable local and global socioeconomic services they provide (e.g., agricultural land, human settlements and associated infrastructure and industry, aquaculture and fisheries and freshwater supply) are particularly vulnerable to climate change (McLean et al., 2001, Section 6.5; Hassan et al., 2005, Section 19.3.2, Table 19.2).

Key vulnerabilities

Since the TAR, literature has confirmed that salient vulnerable ecosystems are warm-water coral reefs (Box 4.4), cold-water corals, the Southern Ocean and marginal sea-ice ecosystems. Ocean uptake of CO2, resulting from increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, reduces surface ocean pH and carbonate ion concentrations, an impact that was overlooked in the TAR. This is expected to affect coral reefs, cold water corals, and ecosystems (e.g., the Southern Ocean), where aragonite (used by many organisms to make their shells or skeletons) will decline or become undersaturated. These and other ecosystems where calcareous organisms (e.g., pteropods, see Glossary) play an important role will become vulnerable this century (reviewed by Raven et al., 2005; Haugan et al., 2006; Table 4.1). Synergistic impacts of higher seawater temperatures and declining carbonate make these ecosystems even more vulnerable (e.g., Raven et al., 2005; Turley et al., 2006; Box 4.4). Marginal sea-ice and surrounding ecosystems are vulnerable to warming, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere (Sarmiento et al., 2004b; Christensen et al., 2007).


Climate change can impact marine ecosystems through ocean warming (Wang et al., 2004b), by increasing thermal stratification and reducing upwelling (Cox et al., 2000; Sarmiento et al., 2004a), sea level rise (IPCC, 2001), and through increases in wave height and frequency (Monahan et al., 2000; Wang et al., 2004b), loss of sea ice (Sarmiento et al., 2004b; Meehl et al., 2007; Christensen et al., 2007), increased risk of diseases in marine biota (Harvell et al., 2002) and decreases in the pH and carbonate ion concentration of the surface oceans (Caldeira and Wickett, 2003; Feely et al., 2004; Sabine et al., 2004; Raven et al., 2005).

Theoretically, nutrient speciation could be influenced by the lower pH expected this century (Zeebe and Wolf-Gladrow, 2001 ; Raven et al., 2005). Decreases in both upwelling and formation of deep water and increased stratification of the upper ocean will reduce the input of essential nutrients into the sunlit regions of oceans and reduce productivity (Cox et al., 2000; Loukos et al., 2003; Lehodey et al., 2003; Sarmiento et al., 2004a). In coastal areas and margins, increased thermal stratification may lead to oxygen deficiency, loss of habitats, biodiversity and distribution of species, and impact whole ecosystems (Rabalais et al., 2002). Changes to rainfall and nutrient flux from land may exacerbate these hypoxic events (Rabalais et al., 2002).

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