When people talk about global warming and the long term effects it will have on the earth’s population, the focus is generally on the places of highest population density. Coastal regions, such as the eastern coast of the United States, may find thousands of people displaced due to rising sea levels that will cover their existing homes under several feet of water.
However, the most largely ignored places on the planet are the desert regions because, well, almost nobody lives there. That is true when talking about people, but the desert is teeming with an abundance of life, everything from reptiles to insects, to birds. Yes, the hummingbird is often found in desert regions. I remember the first time I saw a hummingbird make a sharp turn around the corner of a building – backwards. Very cool.
But the biggest problem with global warming and its ecosystem is because so few people live there, any negative impacts on its ecosystem are either not studied or are largely ignored. As any scientist knows, the earth is one interconnected ecosystem, so what effects desert regions will eventually find its way to our civilized doorsteps.
Most of the individual components of the desert ecosystem are unknown to most people. Yet the most recent research shows that an increase in global temperature of only a few degrees can cause entire species to go extinct. While humans can adapt to temperature variations between 60 degrees and 90 degrees, anything outside of those parameters will drastically effect their survivability. Compare that with only a 2 or 3 degree variation for the dwarf succulents called Conophytum, less technically known as “cone plants.” There are as many as 5,000 species known, many of them in a desert region in South Africa.
Human perceptions about the desert is that a few degrees really won’t make much difference since all these living organisms have managed to adjust for hundreds or thousands of years. But it has been at least twice as long since the planet has experienced the level of global warming currently grabbing the attention of environmental scientists everywhere. What people often do not recognize is that the necessity of the field of environmental science hasn’t been recognized until the last 50 -100 years. Prior to that the focus was on biology, botany, zoology, and the like.
If these desert creatures find their environment is getting too hot for comfort, they will, as we have already seen from non-desert species, migration patterns to survivable environments. The problem that is being ignored is we don’t know what will happen when unknown desert species come in contact with their new environment. At the current rate of global warming, we will find out sooner than later.