There’s no doubt that climate change and global warming impacts on the earth’s flora and fauna in a number of different ways, as it has since the dawn of time.
Creatures that live in cooler climates will be displaced towards higher ground where the temperature is lower as has been noted in many places; the Alps, the mountains of Queensland in Australia and in the rain forests of Costa Rica. Fish species that were once common in the coastal waters off Cornwall have relocated further north to the Shetlands and the Orkney Islands. In fact, these movements are so significant that scientists are using them as an ongoing indicator of how the world is warming; they are effectively a living study of climate change.
Species at risk around the world
It has been predicted that if global warming continues it could cause the mass extinction of species in the future. Our overheating planet is damaging sensitive ecosystems, threatening thousands of species all over the globe. Many species are already seriously threatened and may no longer be living in the wild in as little as a decade from now.
Canada’s population of polar bears is already under threat. The largest land predator on earth is dependent on sea ice to catch its primary source of food; seals. The Arctic sea ice is melting at the alarming rate of 9% per decade and already starving bears are clashing with human populations as they range further inland in search of food.
The Brazilian beaches which are used by certain species of sea turtles as nesting grounds are being threatened by rising sea levels. Nest temperature strongly determines the sex of the developing young; colder nests produce more male offspring, while warmer sites produce females. As the climate around the nesting sites warms up, fewer male turtles are being born and this alone presents a serious threat to the future of the species.
Numbers of the North Atlantic Right Whale have been seriously depleted by hunting and the species is now endangered. The whales feed on plankton which flourish in cold waters; the warming of the seas and fluctuation in climate have seen the availability of food decreasing so much that starvation is now the main cause of mortality in the species. At time of writing, it is estimated that there are only around 350 individuals left.
China’s population of Giant Pandas is uncertain. The mountainous forest habitat in south-western China is fragmented due to human encroachment and populations are small and isolated. The pandas’ staple diet is bamboo and this is also part of a delicate ecosystem that is under threat from global warming. Extensive programs of captive breeding are underway to try to increase numbers but the wild panda remains under threat.
The orangutan is Asia’s only ape; and it is in serious trouble. The orangutan lives in the dense rain forests of Indonesia but this habitat is threatened by extensive industrial logging operations. Global warming has increased the duration and frequency of drought conditions leading to more frequent bush fires which further encroach on the orangutan’s territory.
Baby orangutans are frequently taken by poachers for sale on the black market while their mothers are often shot and used for sale as bush meat.
African elephants are suffering due to loss of their habitat as man takes over more and more land for farming growing crops, often bringing animals into conflict with people. Global warming has led to longer dry seasons meaning than the elephants have to range further and further in search of food and water and there have been reports in recent years of herds being severely depleted through starvation.
Australia is home to many species of frogs but climate change is affecting many aspects of their lives; home range, breeding cycles and consequently numbers are all being affected. Frogs rely on water to breed. Longer, drier spells have seen breeding pools drying out and adult frogs dying due to dehydration of their skin which must stay moist. Fewer tadpoles are being born so populations of certain species are decreasing.
India’s tigers have been under serious threat for many years, largely due to hunting and latterly to poaching. The tigers’ habitat is also disappearing as the human population expands, forests are cleared and the land is used increasingly for agriculture and livestock farming. As the tigers’ natural prey species are driven out, the big cats turn instead to the farmers’ cattle and goats as easy meals and this change of behaviour brings them into conflict with people.
One last safe area for the Indian tiger is the remote unpopulated mangrove forests but rising sea levels could see these living spaces disappearing in the next few decades.
Climate change is nothing new. Pre-history has seen a number of massive climactic swings which saw the demise of the mega-fauna and even early man. Where some species foundered and disappeared, others who were better adapted to the new climate emerged and flourished; and no doubt as tragic as it will be to see these beautiful animals disappear from the wild, it’s also exciting to wonder what will emerge to replace them in the future.
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