Are animals affected by climate change?

Tom Haddon

Tom Haddon

Oct 1, 2020

Climate change is a big problem. It’s leading to more frequent natural disasters, melting glaciers, warming ocean temperatures and a whole host of other challenges to our survival. But we’re not the only ones affected by this. Every single animal that we share the earth with is facing the same issues that we are, the only difference is that they haven’t caused any of them. 

Habitats

Animals can be affected directly by climate change, but are usually more heavily impacted by habitat loss or changing ecospheres. Just like humans, the animals we share the planet with are generally able  to adapt to change. However, the climate is changing at a faster rate than it has done in the past 10,000 years, and so just like us it is becoming harder and harder to cope with these changes. If carbon emissions aren’t reduced and climate change continues to escalate , many animals will be forced to migrate to stay alive.

According to the WWF:

The fate of many species in a rapidly warming world will likely depend on their ability to migrate away from increasingly less favorable climatic conditions to new areas that meet their physical, biological, and climatic needs…most species on this planet (including plants) will have to “move” faster than 1,000 metres per year if they are to keep within the climate zone which they need for survival”. [1]

However, there are many animals that live in unique habitats, which cannot be found or replicated elsewhere. You will of already heard about some of the devastating changes happening around the world, such as the deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest and the ‘big meltdown’ [2] in Antarctica. These are having massive impacts on the hundreds of animal species that live in the habitats there. However, there are also some lesser known areas of high biodiversity that are also being impacted. For example, Coastal East Africa, the Coral Triangle, and the Eastern Himalayas. 

Coastal East Africa

Coastal East Africa is a rich and diverse area of the planet with a range of iconic African animals calling it their home such as Rhinos, Elephants and Lions. As well as this where the land meets the sea there are mangroves and coral reefs teeming with life, making this area of the world a crucial habitat for sea-life as well. 

The Coral Triangle

The coral triangle is located between the Philippines, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. It is home to a staggering range of corals (almost 600 reef building coral) as well as  thousands of species of reef fish and six out of the seven species of marine sea turtle. [3] 

Coral reef habitat affected by climate change

Corals under water © Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

The Eastern Himalayas

Many will know that the Eastern Himalayas are home to the world’s tallest mountain – Mount Everest. Mountain ranges are amongst some of the most sensitive ecosystems to climate change, with retreating glaciers both being a key indicator of this as well as a threat for the inhabitants of such ecosystems. The Himalayas is home to majestic and well loved species such as Snow Leopards and the Bengal tiger, however in total there are 163 globally threatened species that live in this area.

Some affected animals…

Although all animals, especially those within the endangered habitats are affected by climate change, some have been hit harder by the changing global climate. 

Giant Pandas

Pandas are one of the most famously endangered species in the world, with only 1,864 giant pandas left in the world. They even make an appearance in the WWF logo. Pandas are affected by climate change, because they live in some of the most unique and biodiverse habitats in the temperate world (meaning it rivals the biodiversity of tropical rainforests). The bamboo forests they live in and rely on for food are threatened by deforestation and urban sprawl – especially in China where the majority of the panda population lives. Because of the environment that they live in, Giant pandas are also considered an umbrella species which means they help protect other species due to their centrality in their ecosystem. 

Climate change impacting endangered species

Giant Panda enjoying the last summer sun on a rock formation. © Nicholas DC on Unsplash

Sea Turtles

Climate change is affecting sea turtles in a number of ways, with some of the impacts quite surprising. A turtle’s habitat is the ocean, and so changing sea temperatures, high levels of pollution and overfishing all contribute to a declining sea turtle population. 

However there is another unknown impact of climate change – it’s turning the majority of sea turtles female. This is because turtles are an uncommon species of animal that are subject to temperature-dependant sex determination. The temperature of the eggs while they are developing dictates the sex of the offspring, with eggs incubating over 30.8 degrees Celcius becoming female, while those incubating under 27.7 degrees becoming male (temperatures between these leads to either) [6]. To give some perspective on how this actually affects sea turtle populations, one study of Pacific Ocean green sea turtles found that 99% of turtles were turning female – with the females outnumbering the males 116 to 1! [7]

Turtles are affected by rising sea temperatures, a result of climate change

© Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Bees

Closer to home climate change is affecting animals as well. 24% of the bees within Europe are now classified as being threatened with extinction [8]. This is largely due to the season altering impacts of climate change, with the changes in seasons being much less clear, while the amount of extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods causing further problems for the bees. Increasing frequency in temperatures has been found to lead to local species extinction [9]. This also has knock on effects since bees are pollinators so help keep their entire ecosystem thriving. In fact, according to the WWF, “one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat exists because of pollinators” [8].

Bees are endangered because of the knock on affects of climate change

Honey bees flying into beehive © Photo by Kai Wenzel on Unsplash

Summary 

Globally many species of animal are at serious risk from climate change. Habitat loss, forced migration, changing seasons, higher temperatures and affected biologies are just some of the challenges facing animals around the world. While some animals may be more resilient, or better suited to adapt to these challenges, many more are at risk of extinction. Our thinking when it comes to climate change shouldn’t only be about us, but everyone and every plant and animal that is affected by our actions. 

It is for this reason that we believe in nature based solutions, which can be advantageous not only for the goal of sequestering CO2, but can also provide huge benefits to biodiversity and ecosystem survival.

To learn about the resources and methods you can use, read more on the Earthly Blog, or take a look at our products to see what actionable changes you can make.

Sources

[1] WWF. (2020). A growing need for species to adapt to a changing world. https://wwf.panda.org/our_work/our_focus/wildlife_practice/problems/climate_change/

[2] Welch. (2018). The Big Meltdown. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2018/11/antarctica-climate-change-western-peninsula-ice-melt-krill-penguin-leopard-seal/

[3] WWF. (2020). Coral Triangle. https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/coral-triangle

[4] Tomazic. (2017). Exhibition ‘Climate change impacts on mountain regions of the world’. http://www.unesco.org/new/en/natural-sciences/resources/communication-materials/exhibitions/climate-change-impacts-on-mountain-regions-of-the-world/

[5] WWF. (2020). Eastern Himalayas. https://www.worldwildlife.org/places/eastern-himalayas

[6] NOAA. (2017). What is eutrophication? https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/about/welcome.html

[7] Welch. (2018) 99% of These Sea Turtles Are Turning Female—Here’s Why. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/news/2018/01/australia-green-sea-turtles-turning-female-climate-change-raine-island-sex-temperature/

[8] WWF. (2020). Bees feel the sting og climate change in the East of England. https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/bees-feel-sting-climate-change

[9] Soroye, P., Newbold, T. and Kerr, J., (2020). Climate change contributes to widespread declines among bumble bees across continents. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/367/6478/685/tab-e-letters

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