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Change in species diversity as a result of climate change - outlook from EEA

Indicator Assessmentexpired Created 25 Jan 2009 Published 08 Jun 2009 Last modified 04 Sep 2015, 07:00 PM
This content has been archived on 11 Nov 2013, reason: Content not regularly updated
Indicator codes: Outlook 004
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Key messages

By the late 21st century, distributions of European plant species are projected to have shifted several hundred kilometres to the north, forests are likely to have contracted in the south and expanded in the north, and 60 % of mountain plant species may face extinction. The rate of change will exceed the ability of many species to adapt, especially as landscape fragmentation may restrict movement.

A combination of the rate of climate change, habitat fragmentation and other obstacles will impede the movement of many animal species, possibly leading to a progressive decline in European biodiversity. Distribution changes are projected to continue. Suitable climatic conditions for Europe's breeding birds are projected to shift nearly 550 km northeast by the end of the century, with the average range size shrinking by 20 %. Projections for 120 native European mammals suggest that up to 9 % (assuming no migration) risk extinction during the 21st century.

What are trends in biodiversity?

Projected changes in number of plant species in 2050

Note: Results for stable area per grid cell, using the EuroMove model with HadCM2 A2 climate scenario.

Data source:

Bakkenes, M.; Eickhout, B. and Alkemade, R., 2006. Impacts of different climate stabilisation scenarios on plants species in Europe. Global Environmental Change 16: 2006.

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Projected impact of climate change on the potential distribution of reptiles and amphibians in 2050

Note: Projected data based on the Generalised Linear Model map using the HadCM3 A2 scenario for the 2050s are compared with the current situation.

Data source:
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Distribution of plant species
Projections indicate that, by the late 21st century, the potential range of many European plant species may shift several hundred kilometres in a northerly direction. This is several times faster than past rates as estimated from the Quaternary record or from historic data (Huntley, 2007). The distribution of tree species is also likely change significantly, with forests expanding in the north and contracting in the south, and broadleaved species replacing native coniferous species in western and central Europe (IPCC, 2007).

Modelling of late 21st century distributions of 1 350 European plant species under a range of scenarios led to the conclusion that more than half will be at the edge of their geographic and altitudinal ranges and could become threatened by 2080, with high risks of extinction (Thuiller et al., 2005). The greatest changes are projected for endemic plant species in Mediterranean, Euro-Siberian and many mountain regions. Mountain communities may face up to a 60 % loss of plant species under high emission scenarios, reversing the 20th century trend outlined above (Thuiller et al., 2005; IPCC, 2007).

Bakkenes et al. (2006) obtained similar results from modelling stable areas of plant species distribution for this century under different climate change scenarios. This study suggests that 10-50 % of plant species in European countries are likely to disappear by 2100 from their current location in the absence of climate change mitigation. Again, species in southeast and southwest Europe are likely to be worst affected. This number will be higher if migration is restricted due to continuing fragmentation or if there is competition with invasive species.

Plant phenology
Phenological changes will alter growing seasons, ecosystem production, population level interactions and community dynamics (Fitter and Fitter, 2002). Different species show different phenological responses; for example, annuals and insect pollinated species are more likely to flower early than perennials and wind pollinated species (Fitter and Fitter, 2002). Ecological research is evaluating these response thresholds to better understand what the wider effects might be. While advancing trends in seasonal events will continue as climate warming increases in the years and decades to come, it is uncertain how different species will respond when temperature thresholds are reached and whether linear relationships between temperature and growing season will be realised in the future.

Distribution of animal species

Projections suggest that the northward and uphill movement of many animal species will continue this century. Widespread species may be less vulnerable, while threatened endemics -- already under pressure -- will be at greatest risk, although there will be spatial variation (Levinsky et al., 2007; Lemoine et al., 2007). An important constraint will be the ability of species to move. This ability represents a significant research challenge, especially in the context of the effectiveness of ecological networks under a fast changing climate.

The limited dispersal ability of many reptile and amphibians, coupled with the fragmentation of ecological networks, is very likely to reduce the ranges of many species (Hickling et al., 2006; Araújo et al., 2006), particularly those in the Iberian Peninsula and parts of Italy (Map 5.31).

A study of 120 native terrestrial mammals projected that species richness is likely to reduce dramatically this century in the Mediterranean region, but increase towards the northeast and in mountainous areas such as the Alps and Pyrenees, assuming that movement through fragmented landscapes is possible.

Under a 3 °C climate warming scenario (above preindustrial levels), the ranges of European breeding birds are projected to shift by the end of the 21st century by about 550 km to the northeast, with average range size being 20 % smaller. Arctic, sub Arctic, and some Iberian species are projected to suffer the greatest range losses (Huntley et al., 2008).

In polar regions, projected reductions in sea ice will drastically reduce habitat for polar bears, seals and other ice-dependent species (IPCC, 2007). In addition to climate change, these top predators will also be affected by declining fish stocks.


Animal phenology

The future impacts of climate change on animal phenology are poorly understood, but could include increasing trophic mismatch and disturbance to ecosystem functioning. The trend towards warmer springs may continue to induce earlier breeding and migration activity. Unpredictable cold snaps are likely to cause high mortality amongst early movers. Meanwhile, species whose life cycles are calibrated according to day length, and which do not respond so readily to changing temperatures, will not be able to exploit earlier spring resources unless they can adapt.


Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

Definition: The indicator represents number of species gained and lost as a result of climate change.

Model used: EUROMOVE

Ownership:  European Environment Agency

Temporal coverage: 2100

Geographical coverage: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Cyprus, Czech republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Lichtenshtain, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Swetzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, United Kingdom


Number of species

Policy context and targets

Context description

There is a strong need for an indicator to show the status of biodiversity in Europe. Such an indicator should be closely linked to the following policy objectives expressed at both European and global level.

Global policy context

At the global level, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and in particular the Strategic Plan for the Convention commits the Parties to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level. This target was endorsed in 2002 by two major global environmental meetings; firstly the Ministerial Declaration at COP6 to the CBD and secondly the World Summit on Sustainable Development in its Plan of Implementation (2002).

Pan-European policy context

On the Pan-European level, the Kiev resolution on Biodiversity was adopted during the fifth ministerial conference on Environment for Europe in 2003. It reinforces the objective to halt the loss of biodiversity at all levels by the year 2010.

European level

At European level, the Council of the European Union adopted the European Strategy for Sustainable Development in 2001. One of the objectives of the Strategy was "to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010". In June 2004, the EU Environment Council welcomed the set of biodiversity indicators referred to in the "Message from Malahide" and based on the first set of indicators adopted under the Convention on biological diversity earlier that year. 

Other political instruments in Europe are also focusing on biodiversity. These include the 6th Environmental Action Programme and the European Community Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.

EECCA policy context

Development and implementation of national strategies and plans concerning bidoversity is the object for the governments of EECCA region.


EU level

  • To half the loss of biodiversity by 2010

EECCA level

  • To develop national strategies concerning biodiversity

Links to other related policies

EECCA Environmental Strategy

Related policy documents


Methodology for indicator calculation

Calculations of the indicator are based on the Euromove model.

Overview of the Euromove model

Euromove is a species-based model using logistic regression equations to calculate occurence probabilities for almost 1400 European vascular plant species. The equations are based on six climatic variables from IMAGE (including climatic temperature data) and species data from the Atlas Flora Europaeae (AFE) (Jalas and Suominen 1989; Ascroft 1994). In the Euromove model (Bakkenes et al., 2002) a threshold probability value for each species have been determined to transform calculated probabilities into absent-present states.

The model is easy to use and makes use of all available digital information on plant species in Europe.  The indicator recognizes climate change as the major determining factor of plant distribution. The indicator gives insight in the potential loss of plant biodiversity due to climate change.

A global biodiversity assessment model: GLOBIO3

The GLOBIO3 model has been developed to assess human-induced changes in biodiversity, in the past, present and future at regional and global scales. The model is built on simple cause-effect relationships between environmental drivers and biodiversity impacts, based on state-of-the-art knowledge. The mean abundance of original species relative to their abundance in undisturbed ecosystems (MSA) is used as the indicator for biodiversity. Changes in drivers are derived from the IMAGE 2.4 model. Drivers considered are land-cover change, land-use intensity, fragmentation, climate change, atmospheric nitrogen deposition, and infrastructure development. GLOBIO3 addresses (i) the impacts of environmental drivers on MSA and their relative importance; (ii) expected trends under various future scenarios; and, (iii) the likely effects of various policy response options. GLOBIO3 has been used successfully in several integrated regional and global assessments.

Three different global-scale policy options have been evaluated, on their potential to reduce MSA loss. These options are: climate-change mitigation through expanded use of bio-energy, an increase in plantation forestry, and an increase in protected areas. We conclude that MSA loss is likely to continue during the coming decades. Plantation forestry may help to reduce the rate of loss, whereas climate-change mitigation through the extensive use of bioenergy crops will, in fact, increase this rate of loss. The protection of 20% of all large ecosystems leads to a small reduction in the rate of loss, provided that protection is effective and that currently degraded protected areas are restored.

For more information see:

Methodology for gap filling


Methodology references

No methodology references available.


Methodology uncertainty

Factors that affect biodiversity, such as land use change, habitat loss, and fragmentation are not considered. For this reason, the results may differ from the actual future distribution. It can be proposed additional modules to complete prediction on these and other aspects. The use of the model and the indicator in a policy context is therefore limited, although the methodology has potential application to predict responses of keystone species.

Data sets uncertainty

Data quality is not consistently robust across Europe, particularly in Russia, and to a lesser extent in Spain and southern Italy.

Rationale uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sources

Generic metadata


Environmental scenarios Environmental scenarios (Primary topic)

Biodiversity Biodiversity

Climate change Climate change

plants | biodiversity | animals | climate change | amphibians | reptiles | species
DPSIR: Impact
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • Outlook 004
Temporal coverage:
2000, 2008, 2050
Geographic coverage:
Albania, Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Europe, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia (FYR), Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Anita Pirc Velkavrh


EEA Management Plan

2010 (note: EEA internal system)


European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100