Background. The success of human societies depends intimately on the living components of natural and managed systems. Although the geographical range limits of species are dynamic and fluctuate over time, climate change is impelling the redistribution of life on Earth. For marine, freshwater, and terrestrial species alike, the first response to changing climate is often a shift in location, to stay within preferred environmental conditions. At the cooler extremes of their distributions, species are moving poleward, whereas range limits are contracting at the warmer range edge, where temperatures are no longer tolerable. Because different species respond at different rates and to varying extents, key interactions among species are often disrupted, and new interactions develop. These changes can result in rapid changes in ecosystem functioning, with pervasive and sometimes unexpected consequences that propagate through and affect both biological and human communities.
Approach. In our paper, we undertook a high-level review of the consequences of climate driven species redistribution for human health and culture, trade and economics, and regional and global governance systems. We did this by inviting the scientific committee, session chairs and keynote speakers from the inaugural International Species on The Move conference (www.speciesonthemove.com) to an intensive three-day writing workshop. This interdisciplinary group of experts and early career researchers were from all over the world and had expertise in ecological systems from the poles to the tropics. Our group examined the direct, indirect and interacting impacts of ‘species on the move’ across sectors, including on the health and functioning of ecosystems; measures of human well-being such as disease vectors, food security, disruption to traditional culture and livelihoods; and feedbacks on the climate system itself. We then considered how these impacts – individually and collectively – might affect governance systems and conservation actions across the world. We examined the link between the impacts of climate driven species redistributions and the implementation and achievement of global sustainable development goals.
Findings. Our research demonstrates that species redistributions are already having substantial impacts on economic development, human well-being, and the climate system itself. These impacts are projected to increase rapidly. Critically, the pervasive effects of changes in species distribution transcend single systems or dimensions, with feedbacks and linkages among multiple interacting spatial and temporal scales and through entire ecosystems, inclusive of humans. We found, consistent with other climate impacts, that species redistributions will create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, and may trigger new human-human and human-environment conflicts within and between different geographical regions and sectors. International and domestic governance systems will need to be adapted to respond to this challenge. In particular, our paper suggests that climate impacts must rapidly be incorporated into decision making and policy and strategic frameworks to enable negative effects to be minimised and managed.