Alpine animals and plants in 10 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, such as Hokkaido, are likely to lose habitats within the country by the end of the 21st century as global warming worsens, a Japanese research team reported Wednesday.

As temperatures in their living environments gradually rise due to global warming, species move northward or to higher altitudes in search of the temperatures for which they have adapted.

Researchers from the Nagano Environmental Conservation Research Institute and other public institutions estimated the velocity of climate change (VoCC), or how quickly it is necessary to move in order to maintain the same climate conditions, by comparing yearly average temperatures for about one square kilometer between the 1981-2010 period. They also forecast data for the 2076-2100 period.

Under the scenario of global warming continuing into the 22nd century, they found that the average VoCC is most rapid in Okinawa Prefecture, at 2,174 meters per year, followed by Chiba Prefecture, at 738 meters.

Okinawa, which consists of islands, and Chiba, which has large areas of flat land, have no high-altitude locations in their vicinity, so alpine animals and plants would need to be reach more distant habitats in order to survive, they said. The study also suggested the possibility that animals and plants living in alpine regions in the 10 prefectures of Hokkaido, Yamanashi, Nagano, Toyama, Shizuoka, Gifu, Tochigi, Gunma, Niigata and Ishikawa would not be able to find places within the country where they could migrate, despite relatively low VoCC readings, because there are no higher or cooler places in other prefectures.

The researchers found that the average national VoCC of 249 meters per year is too fast for many kinds of trees to adapt, noting, “It may be possible that the only way for animals and plants to survive will be by them being raised in zoos, or by conserving seeds.” They also underscored the need to consider measures not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also to help wild animals and plants migrate. “It’s not widely known that wild animals and plants may not be able to catch up with the speed of climate change,” said NECI researcher Kohei Takano, the presenter of the research at an Environmental Information Science convention Wednesday. “I hope people pay attention to this,” he stressed.

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