A recent study conducted by the universities of Exeter and Campinas, along with the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh and Trinity College Dublin, sheds light on the winners and losers among plant species due to global warming forcing them to migrate to higher altitudes. Published in the journal Diversity and Distributions, the study focused on the Cerrado savanna in Brazil, home to over 7,000 plant species. By examining current plant distributions and projecting changes by 2040, researchers uncovered a crucial pattern: while lowland species can ascend to cooler climates, mountain plants face a dire predicament with no higher ground to seek refuge.

Mateus Silva from the University of Exeter explains, “Each plant and animal species has a ‘geographic range,’ denoting areas where conditions favor their survival. With climate warming, plant ranges are shifting towards higher elevations.” This trend, observed in the Cerrado, suggests an alarming prospect: lowland regions may become extinction hotspots, while mountains will witness the arrival of new plant species combinations.

Despite covering only 0.4% of Earth’s land surface, the Cerrado hosts a remarkable 3.5% of all flowering plants—approximately 12,000 species—on par with the biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest. Employing species distribution models, the research team correlated plant occurrences with climatic factors such as temperature and precipitation. By focusing on changes anticipated by 2040, the study aims to provide actionable insights for current conservation endeavors.

While the study foresees more significant impacts over longer periods, its findings sound an urgent alarm: around 150 plant species face a critical reduction by 2040, losing over 70% of their range.

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