Species threatened by climate change

Species threatened by climate change. rel=
American pikas, tufted puffins, green sea turtles, and polar bears are all threatened by climate change.
© (Left to right) 1. Mahalie Stackpole / Flickr.com; 2. Fritz PÖLKING / WWF; 3. Jürgen FREUND / WWF-Canon; 4. WWF-Canon / Dan GURAVICH

Climate change and global warming impacts on species in a number of ways.

Animals and plants that are suited to cooler climates will need to move polewards or uphill when the climate becomes even just that little bit warmer.

This process has been observed in many places – in the Alps, in mountainous Queensland in Australia, and in the misty forests of Costa Rica.

Fish in the North Sea have been observed moving northwards too – fish stocks that used to be common around Cornwall have moved as far north as the Shetland and Orkney Islands.

The impacts on species are becoming so significant that their movements can be used as on indicator of a warming world. They are the silent witnesses of the rapid changes being inflicted on the Earth.

Species at risk around the world

Scientists predict that global warming could contribute to the mass extinction of wild animals in the near future.

An overheating world is creating a big change in climatic conditions and this can harm the delicate ecosystems in which species live. Threatened species can already be found all over the world - see the examples below.

Canada

The polar bear could disappear in the wild unless the pace of global warming slows. Dependent on sea ice, the animal uses it as a floating platform to catch prey. Experts believe that the Arctic sea ice is melting at a rate of 9% per decade, endangering the polar bear’s habitat and existence.

Read more about polar bears
Polar bear (<i>Ursus maritimus</i>) cubs. Svalbard, Norway. / ©: NPI
Polar bear (Ursus maritimus) cubs. Svalbard, Norway.
© NPI

South America

Sea turtles lay their eggs on Brazilian beaches, many of which are threatened by rising sea levels. Climate change also threatens the offspring of sea turtles, as nest temperature strongly determines the sex: the coldest sites produce male offspring, while the warmer sites produce female offspring.
This nest-warming trend is reducing the number of male offspring and seriously threatens turtle populations.

Read more about marine turtles
Green sea turtle. Zanzibar Island. Tanzania / ©: Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas); Zanzibar, Tanzania.
© Martin HARVEY / WWF-Canon

America

The North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered of all large whales, with a long history of human exploitation. Since warming waters contain less plankton for whales to feed on, the availability of food due to climate fluctuations is also becoming an increasing cause of mortality. Between 300 and 350 individuals still exist, with little hope of population growth.

Read more about whales and dolphins
Northern right whale mother & calf off the Atlantic coast of Florida.  / ©: Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF
Northern right whale mother & calf (Eubalaena glacialis) off the Atlantic coast of Florida.
© Brian J. Skerry / National Geographic Stock / WWF

China

The giant panda's future remains uncertain due to a number of threats. Its forest habitat in the mountainous areas of south-western China is fragmented, and giant panda populations are small and isolated from each other. Bamboo, the panda’s staple diet, is also part of a delicate ecosystem that could be affected by the changes caused by global warming. Poaching too remains an everpresent threat, with only 1,600 individuals left in the wild.

Read more about the giant panda
 / ©: WWF-Canon / Susan A. MAINKA
Giant Panda, 8 months old Male born 5.10.1994 Wolong, China May 1995
© WWF-Canon / Susan A. MAINKA

Indonesia

Asia’s only ape – the orang-utan – is in deep trouble. Its last remaining strongholds in the rainforests of Indonesia are being threatened by a range of pressures, including climate change, putting the animal at risk of extinction within a few decades. With global warming increasing the duration and frequency of droughts, bushfires are occurring more often in these heavily logged forests, further fragmenting the orang-utan’s living space.

Read more about great apes
Bornean orang-utan, Sarawak (Borneo), Malaysia. / ©: Michel TERRETTAZ / WWF-Canon
Bornean orang-utan, Sarawak (Borneo), Malaysia.
© Michel TERRETTAZ / WWF-Canon

Africa

In Africa, elephants face a range of threats including shrinking living space, which brings them more frequently into conflict with people. With diminished living space, elephants will be unable to escape any changes to their natural habitat caused by global warming, including more frequent and longer dry periods, placing further pressure on their existence.

Read more about elephants

Australia

Climate change is affecting home range, abundance and breeding cycles of many of Australia’s frog species. Since frogs rely on water to breed, any reduction or change in rainfall could reduce frog reproduction. Higher temperatures contribute to the drying out of breeding pools, and as a result, to the deaths of tadpoles and eggs. Drier conditions also cause adult frogs to die, due to increased rates of internal water loss through their permeable skin.
 / ©: WWF-Canon / John RATCLIFFE
White-lipped or Giant treefrog Litoria infrafrenata Irian Jaya, Indonesia.
© WWF-Canon / John RATCLIFFE

India

Experts estimate there are as few as 3,200 tigers left in the wild, due to poaching, the loss of their habitat and depletion of the tiger’s natural prey. Hunters, traders and poor local residents use the forest for subsistence, directly competing with the tiger. Some of the largest remaining areas where tigers occur are the mangrove forests of India. The projected rise in sea levels could cause these living spaces of the tiger to vanish altogether.

Read more about tigers
Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) / ©: Adam OSWELL / WWF-Canon
Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).
© Adam OSWELL / WWF-Canon

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