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November 19, 2017  |  Login

Climate Change

We are already seeing the effects of climate change on wildlife. Faced with challenges including warming air, soil, and water, wild creatures have only two choices:
  • try to adapt to the change in their customary habitat, or
  • re-locate - if they can.

For many, the change in their habitat may be occurring to fast for them to adjust. Moving is not an option for corals anchored to the sea floor, or Arctic wildlife stranded by melting sea ice. The picture is further complicated because the food web is so intricately interconnected. When one species goes through a change, there can be a domino effect for others that depend on them for survival.

Temperature change challenges birds and animals in a variety of ways.

  • Many Arctic mammals are dependent on sea ice as a platform where they hunt, breed, and raise their young. Warmer temperatures mean ice is melting earlier in the year and refreezing later in the year, leaving polar bears with less time to hunt, eat, and store up fat for winter.
  • The natural insulation of fur for young seals evolved to protect them in extremely cold temperatures, and fails when warm weather brings rain, leading to hypothermia and death.
  • Some fish, like trout, are very sensitive to temperature change and can only survive in a certain range.
  • Birds that adjust their migration schedule to shorter winters may arrive at traditional stopovers and miss their typical food source because of the time change.
  • Temperature determines the sex of sea turtles; warming could throw off sex ratios.

Habitat loss, already a major issue threatening wildlife, will increase due to sea level rise. Sea turtles and seals will find fewer beaches on which to have their young.
An increase in severe and destructive storms could destroy coastal mangrove forests, important nursery grounds for many species. Inland wetlands subjected to drought conditions could disappear, too.

Ocean acidification is yet another impact of climate change. The ocean has absorbed so much of the carbon dioxide spewed into the air by human activities that it is becoming more acid, a situation that will compromise the ability of shell-building creatures like lobsters and snails to create their protective armor. When those species are impacted, so too are the animals that depend on them for food.

Pathologists warn that disease may become a major threat to wildlife, spreading faster and in new areas because of changes in climate.
Following are two examples of species affected by climate change.

Trout and Salmon
Trout are dependent on water that is clear - and cold. Their habitats are now warming, and rising temperatures will affect the full life cycle of these fish.

  • We may lost 60 % of the trout in the western US due to warming.
  • Up to 40% of Pacific Northwest salmon may be gone by 2025.

The fact is, scientists don't have a clear picture of exactly how climate change impacts will affect these fish, so monitoring programs now in place are seeking answers.

Penguins
Penguins are vulnerable to climate change impacts like melting sea ice and changes in the timing of snowfall and rains. In Eastern Antarctica, for example, Emperor penguin chicks are not maturing in a frozen world of solid ice, but trying to cope with broken, melting ice.

Very young birds are not yet insulated against the cold sea, and typically they don't get near the water; under warming conditions and melting ice, the chances of them falling into the water increase.

They die of hypothermia not just in the water, but when rain falls instead of snow because of warming temperatures.

Polar Bear

Rising temperatures caused by global warming has resulted in a fragmentation and loss of the polar bear’s natural habitat. Polar bears use floating sheets of ice as platforms to hunt seals. When these chunks of ice melt, the polar bears are unable to sufficiently hunt and can starve. The fragmentation of the ice platforms also forces polar bears to swim farther distances to hunt, and puts them at risk of physical exhaustion and drowning.

 
 
 
 
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