Tens of thousands of animals and plants could become extinct within the coming decades as a direct result of climate change, according to a new study. Scientists believe that if atmospheric levels of CO2 double – as expected by 2100 – then biodiversity will be devastated, leading to a “catastrophic” loss of species.

The scientists, led by Lee Malcolm of the University of Toronto, investigated how rising temperatures could affect the species richness of 25 “biodiversity hotspots” – areas of the world that are rich in species found nowhere else. Although the 25 hotspots cover just 1 per cent of global landmass they account for 44 per cent of the plants and 35 per cent of the world’s vertebrate animals.

“Climate change is one of the most serious threats to the planet’s biodiversity. We now have strong scientific evidence that global warming will result in catastrophic species loss across the planet,” Dr Malcolm said.

The study, published yesterday in the journal Conservation Biology, concludes: “We project the eventual loss of thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of hotspot endemic plant and vertebrate species under a climate associated with a doubling of carbon dioxide concentrations.”

“The hotspots studied in this research paper are essentially refugee camps for many of our planet’s most unique plant and animals species” adds Lee Hannah of Conservation International. “If those areas are no longer habitable due to global warming then we will … be destroying the last sanctuaries many of these species have left. It isn’t just polar bears and penguins that we must worry about anymore”.

So what are you going to say when your grandchildren ask you what a penguin looked like?