Our planet is getting warmer and wildlife is already feeling the heat.
Unless we put an end to our dependence on fossil fuels, global temperatures will continue to rise with severe consequences for humans and animals.
Here’s a list of 10 species that may become extinct due to climate change.
The majestic Polar Bear (Ursus Maritimus), a flagship for climate change awareness, is facing an uncertain future due to dwindling sea ice in its Arctic habitat. Longer, warmer summers are causing much of the Arctic Ocean to be ice-free for extended periods of time, decreasing the bears’ access to their primary prey – seals. Consequently, the bears are forced to spend more time foraging on land, where they are at risk of coming into conflict with humans.
Ringed Seals (Pusa Hispida), polar bears’ favourite prey, are highly dependent on Arctic sea ice and almost never come onto land. Warming spring temperatures and early sea ice breakup are causing nursing pups to be prematurely separated from their mothers. Additionally, warmer ocean temperatures are likely to boost seal parasite populations and forced migration of seals to more stable ice habitats will facilitate the spread of disease.
Picture credit: NOAA Fisheries (Wiki Commons)
Beautiful Monarch Butterflies (Danaus Plexippus) are famous for their impressive migrations across North America to reach southern overwintering grounds. Like all butterflies, the Monarch is very sensitive to weather and climate. Increased frequency of extreme weather events is threatening the future of this charismatic species. Furthermore, Monarch caterpillars eat only milkweed – as the climate continues to warm, the butterfly’s range is becoming drier, resulting in loss of vital food plants.
Picture credit: Adam Skowronski (Wiki Commons)
A popular food fish, Atlantic Cod (Gadus Morhua) has been the victim of decades of disastrous overfishing. While the implementation of fishing quotas helped stocks to recover, recent rapid ocean warming has severely impacted cod spawning and survival, causing populations to plummet again. It is thought that warmer waters decrease the availability of zooplankton critical to juvenile fish survival and development. Moreover, to escape the high temperatures, young fish are likely to venture into deep water where they at greater risk of predation.
Picture credit: Hans Hillewaert (Wiki Commons)
The Koala (Phascolarctos Cinereus), Australia’s most iconic fluffy marsupial, is likely to become rarer over the next century due to global warming. Koalas have an extremely specialized diet consisting only of eucalyptus leaves. Increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are decreasing the nutritional value of leaves, resulting in Koala malnutrition and starvation. Longer and more frequent droughts will increase the occurrence of bushfires, which kill millions of forest-dwelling animals like Koalas. Koalas will also increasingly be forced to descend from trees in search of water and new habitats during dry conditions, exposing them to predators and road traffic.
Leatherback Sea Turtle
The Leatherback Sea Turtle (Dermochelys Coriacea), weighing in at half a tonne, is a giant among reptiles. Like all marine turtles, Leatherbacks are threatened by bycatch, poaching and pollution. Climate change is an additional, rapidly emerging threat to marine turtles globally. Rising sea levels and extreme weather events wash nests away and decrease nesting habitat. In sea turtles, the gender of the developing young is determined by sand temperature – warmer eggs turn into females, cooler eggs turn into males. Under global warming, turtle sex ratios are likely to become skewed, resulting in population decrease.
The Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis Adeliae), a well-established resident of Antarctica, is facing tough times due to climate change. The birds are declining along the West Antarctic Peninsula, which is one of the most rapidly warming areas on Earth. The Adélie Penguin’s coastal nesting grounds are becoming increasingly unsuitable for chick survival, and sustained periods of warmer than usual ocean temperature is negatively affecting ability of prey such as fish and krill.
Picture credit: Lin Padgham (Wiki Commons)
Close relatives of rabbits and hares, Pikas are adapted to cold alpine conditions and are very intolerant of high temperatures. The American Pika (Ochotona Princeps) has been retreating upslope to escape rising temperatures and it is feared the species will eventually have nowhere left to go. In some locations, American Pika populations have already entirely disappeared. Other Pika species native to Eastern Europe and Asia are facing the same dire fate.
Picture credit: Sevenstar (Wiki Commons)
Staghorn Coral (Acropora Cevicornis) has experienced a population decline of over 80% since the 1970’s, mostly due to climate change. Staghorn Coral is listed as Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is particularly vulnerable to bleaching, whereby increasing water temperatures cause the coral to expel the symbiotic algae that provide its nutrition. Coral reefs are some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth – as ocean temperatures continue to rise, we also risk losing the countless species that depend on reefs for their survival, such as clownfish and hawksbill turtles.
Picture credit: FWC Fish and Wildlife Reserve (Wiki Commons)
Columbia Spotted Frog
Amphibians such as frogs are very vulnerable to desiccation and require moist conditions to reproduce. They are among the worst-hit species under climate change. Decreasing water bodies in Yellowstone National Park, for example, is driving declines in the Columbia Spotted Frog (Rana Luteiventris) population. Climate change is also causing the rapid spread of the deadly chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium Dendrobatidis, which is endangering amphibians worldwide.
Picture credit: Forest Service Northern Region (USA) (Wiki Commons)