Thursday, February 12, 2009

Surprising Survey Results on Mount Kinabalu

Dawn breaks over a rainforest in Borneo. Photograph: Peter Lilja/Getty Images

A survey on the moths of Mount Kinabalu confirms that global warming is forcing tropical species uphill to escape the rising temperatures at a rate of more than a metre (3.25’) a year.

The site on Mount Kinabalu was first visited by a group of undergraduate students more than 40 years ago. Now more than 4 decades later a team of British scientists has returned to the same site on the south-east Asian island of Borneo. Not only were the sites replicated; but, the surveys and many other aspects of the journey, both large and small, were duplicated. Probably one of the most exciting aspects of the trip was including one of the original members in the group of six that set out over 40 years later. What a privilege for the original member.

Although the trip has only been repeated once so far: they did everything possible to repeat the original survey. They travelled at the same time of year (July and August); they used photographs to identify exact sites for moth traps, and carried out the work during the same phases of the moon.

Lights were used to attract the moths where were then captured using nets or in empty “egg boxes” designed to allow them in but not out.

The group found that on average the insects had raised the altitude of their range by 67m (220’).

"While this is the first example with insects, there are a few other tropical examples that are starting to emerge," said Chris Thomas, professor of Biology at the University of York. "If you look across all those studies they are all showing the same response, and it's extremely difficult to think of any other possible explanation that was causing all of those."

I-Ching Chen, the PhD student who led the research, said: "Our new study is good in that it increases the evidence available, but it is potentially bad for biodiversity."

While some species might survive by migrating up mountains to similar temperatures, others could find there is too little space, or even run out of habitat on the barren rocky peaks, warns the study.

"The fact that over however many tens of thousands or millions of years they have failed to expand their distribution away from those areas makes it vanishingly likely [that] in the next 50-100 years they'll suddenly be able to up sticks and find a cooler part of the world they can expand in rapidly," said Thomas.

For those of you who don't speak fluent European slang - here's the translation:

They're a critically endangered environment. All these species have proved that their only solution is to move further up the mountain and that has worked so far (because everything is moving up the mountain). The environment remains the same, it just gets higher. Unfortunately, what the plants, moths and other sentient beings on the mountains don't realize is that eventually the mountain ends.

1 comment:

kathi said...

I think Borneo is the only area that has wild orangutans - this will not bode well for them.