Can biodiversity adapt to a human-altered world?
Nope. And that picture isn’t real. Only people can adapt to a rapidly changing environment, and even we have our limits. Everything else has to pretty much stick to the ecosystem it evolved in.
Global warming is a fact that we are going to live with for the next century or so, regardless of how successful we are at reducing CO2 emissions. Reducing emissions is just one thing that needs to be done. Finding ways to limit the damage caused by global warming must be done in parallel — mitigation of the effects along with prevention of the effects. Debates over how funds should be spent will forever be a part of the environmental debate.
One thing we must deal with is the fact that ecosystems will change. Polar regions will shrink; tropics and deserts will expand. When this happened in the geologic past, wildlife ranges and populations expanded or shrank along with their habitats. This climate swing is different, because humanity has taken over most of the planet. Wildlife is trapped in ever-shrinking pockets. When these pockets get drier or wetter, the lifeforms evolved to live inside them will go extinct. There is no place to migrate to. If we can’t find ways to let ecosystems expand and contract, then the coming wave of extinctions will be that much worse.
This article from The New York Times gives an example of what needs to be done — connecting ecosystems with wildlife corridors to make small preserves act like big ones. It works:
In the last few years, he said, they have counted tens of thousands of crossings by wolves, bears, cougars, elk, deer and other animals. Each year the numbers rise, presumably because more animals are learning where the crossings are.
But, it isn’t all good:
Hikers camp in wildlife underpasses. Mountain bikers drive animals away from an overpass built over a hydroelectric plant canal … and they ruin hillside vegetation by riding their brakes too hard on the way down. Such problems sometimes leave the researchers wondering whether their efforts do any good. Dr. Paquet said it was troubling to think that he might simply be “monitoring the slow demise” of the ecosystem.
A related NYT link discusses how the idea of connecting the Yukon to Yellowstone came about. A wolf that had been radio collared and tracked had traced out 40,000 square miles of territory:
In December 1993, near Fernie, British Columbia, Pluie’s collar issued its last signal. Soon after, someone sent its battery to Dr. Paquet. It had a bullet hole through it. But Pluie was not dead, not yet. Two years later she turned up, with her batteryless collar, outside Invermere, British Columbia, near Kootenay National Park. She was with an adult male and three pups. A hunter had shot them all dead.