Impacts of Climate Change on Wildlife
Climate change is a major conservation challenge the world is facing today. It is a fundamental threat tohumans, animals and places. It interrupts natural cycles like migration and hibernation.
Sea levels are rising at an alarming rate and oceans are becoming warmer. Droughts are longer and more detrimental; damaging crops, animals, and freshwater supplies. From polar bears in the Arctic to the turtles off the African coast, the planet’s biodiversity is at a constant threat from climate change.To properly address this phenomenon, we must act promptly by reducing carbon pollution and preparing for the possible consequences, which we are already experiencing.
The Warning Signs
The ever-increasing global temperatures are expected to further disrupt ecosystems, pushing species that cannot adopt to the changes on the brink of extinction. If the current trend continues, about 1 million species could be obliterated by 2050, based on the first comprehensive assessment of the extinction risk from global warming.
As climate change wreaks havoc across the world, ecosystems could be completely wiped out, or may undergo some serious, irreversible changes. These impacts on the ecosystem will affect plant and wildlife in various, sometimes unexpected ways.
Some common ecological changes that we observe today include:
- Change in habitats. Transforming habitats include changes in some features like sea ice and wetlands, as well as the direct loss of marine habitat caused by risingsea levels. Species that will be affected the most are those that are highly specialized or dependent on particular ecological conditions or habitat features, like polar bears on the Arctic sea ice.
- Change in timing. Shifts in timing of life history events have become a commonly observed ecological response to changes in climate, like breeding and flowering. In the United States, birds like the tree swallow are now laying eggs over a week earlier than in the previous years, which could mean the young may hatch before insect food is abundant.
- Rise in temperature. The increasing air and water temperatures caused by climate change has a direct effect on fish and wildlife, particularly those with low thermal tolerances. For instance, warming of even 1⁰C is enough to push some corals over their thermal limits.
- Change in geographic ranges. The varying climatic conditions help determine where species are found. As the climate changes, so do the geographic ranges of some species; most of which move to places with cooler temperatures or following shifting habitats.
- Outbreak of pests and diseases. Climate change can also allow new pathogens, pests, parasites, and diseases to thrive in certain areas or to spread more rapidly. For example, in the Rocky Mountains, warmer temperatures gave way to the rise in number of mountain pine beetles. Vast areas of the nearby forestland are devastated by this increase in population.
Every species will react to these ecological impacts in different ways, which will lead to potential community disruption as plants and their pollinators, and predators and prey are being “pulled apart”.
It Has Begun
These are some examples of the impacts of climate change on wildlife, fish, and plants:
- Some scientists observed that nearly 2,000 species of plants and wildlife are moving toward the poles at an average rate of 3.8 miles per decade. Additionally, some species in alpine areas are moving vertically at an average rate of 20 feet per decade in the second half of the century.
- According to a recent report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, approximately 20% to 30% of plant and animal species assessed are at an increased risk of becoming extinct if global warming continues and temperature increases by over 2.7⁰F to 4.5⁰F.
- There have been cases of polar bears drowning because they have to swim longer distances to reach ice floes. According to the US Geological Survey, two-thirds of the world’s polar bear sub-populations are predicted to become extinct by 2050 due to melting of the Arctic ice cap.
- For the past two decades, some Antarctic penguin populations have decreased by 33% due to declines in winter sea-ice habitat.
- In some areas in California, shoreline sea life is gradually shifting northward, perhaps in response to warmer air and water temperatures.
- The seas and oceans will continue to become more acidic due to Carbon Dioxide emissions. Because of this, marine life becomes vulnerable, especially coral reefs, which are vital to marine ecosystems. Worse still, if temperature increases by up to 3.6⁰F, 97% of the world’s coral reefs will disappear.
It goes without saying that global warming has become an increasingly urgent problem that requires immediate action. Right now, we stand at forked road. The path we choose is crucial. If we choose one path, the world could well be on its way to eradicating coal and other pollutants that cause global warming. If we choose the other, we will face a bleak future which the only certainty is a continually shifting climate. The choice is obvious. It’s up to you to make the right decision.