Alpine animal species under threat

Published date17 March 2022
Publication titleSouthland Express
The study, undertaken by Massey University Professors Mary Morgan-Richards, Steven Trewick and Dr Emily Koot, has shown several species which are already endangered, and other more widespread species could lose all of their current habitat in New Zealand due to global warming caused by anthropogenic climate change

Anthropogenic climate change is essentially defined as human-caused climate change, directly linked to the burning of fossil fuels, aerosol releases, and land alteration from agriculture and deforestation, as opposed to naturally occurring climate cycles that have occurred throughout history.

The team of researchers used current niche models to project the future distribution of 12 grasshopper species on to the predicted temperature increase in New Zealand of 1degC or 3.7degC within the next 50 years, caused by global warming.

Their study concluded most of these alpine species endemic to New Zealand, would lose at least 30% of their suitable habitat.

With just a 1degC average rise in temperature, endemic species such as the green rock-hopper and the already endangered Alexandra grasshopper, would have nowhere to live.

Prof Trewick said these two species were highlighted in particular because they differed in circumstances, but their analysis showed decline of all species.

‘‘It’s not quite the same situation for the Alexandra grasshopper because it’s not actually on a mountain, it’s in this Alexandra arid habitat which behaves a lot like an alpine environment even though it’s low down.’’

‘‘These are flightless grasshoppers so it’s not easy for them to quickly shift from one patch to the other.’’

It’s possible the decline and extinction of these animals could have unpredictable effects on local ecosystems as they play a role in natural foodchains.

‘‘Undoubtedly the dynamic starts to fall apart when you start losing species.

‘‘We’ve got a number of graduates who are working in the field, looking at the plant/insect interactions in particular. But we know for instance, these grasshoppers and other insects in the alpine zone are the food of the birds and the reptiles up there, and to some extent other invertebrates,’’ Prof Trewick said.

Studies have shown the global average temperature has increased by 0.66degC during the past 20 years, and that without intervention the 1degC threshold will soon be passed, leading to the extinction of several species and reduced and fragmented habitats of others.

‘‘What we’ve seen is that there’s only a limited...

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