The record low levels of sea ice extent which both the Arctic and Antarctic experienced this winter made the news around the world. Indeed, scientists were astonished to see that in November, a time when the region enters its coldest period, sea ice retreated in the Arctic .
A similar phenomenon was noted in 2013 when a chunk of sea ice as large as Denmark was removed from the Arctic at a time when sea ice is usually growing . It is therefore no surprise that the Earth’s surface temperatures in 2016 were the highest temperatures ever recorded .
The impacts of global warming and climate change are becoming increasingly clear, but they not only impact our natural environment. They have impacts on all its inhabitants, both fauna and flora.
Our biodiversity is affected by changes in climate and other extreme events. At the same time, climate change also worsens other threats like habitat destruction, overexploitation, and disease .
What are some impacts of climate change and how they might affect animals and their habitats?
There is no doubt that climate change is going to change the world as we have known it. The following are just a few of the ways that climate change is impacting our world and will likely continue to impact life on Earth into the foreseeable future.
#1 Increased drought, floods, and wildfires
As the world warms, there is currently an ongoing shift in weather patterns such as precipitation patterns, and an increase in erratic weather.
In a warmer world, there is predicted to be an increase in drought, floods, and wildfires, and this is just what we are beginning to see today with some serious events taking place every year in different countries around the world.
#2 Shifts in seasons and growing zones
It has been found that spring is already arriving as much as 14 days earlier than it used to and the hardiness zones in the Northern Hemisphere have shifted further north over the past several decades.
These changes in seasons will not only impact agriculture, but also wildlife, plants, and ecosystems which evolved under relatively stable climatic conditions.
#3 Stronger storms and increased storm damage
Today, we are already experiencing an increased number of stronger storms, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and strong winds.
Such strong storms are predicted to increase in both frequency and strength under a “business as usual” scenario. And there is no need to say that they might cause lot of damage to natural ecosystems.
#4 Increased heat-related stress
With the predicted increases in heat waves of a warmer planet, there is likely to be an increase in heat-related stress, as record high temperatures become increasingly common in the summer months.
#5 Rising seas
Due to the melting of glaciers and the expansion of seawater as it warms in a warmer world, sea levels are predicted to rise by as much as seven feet (two meters) this century under a “business as usual” scenario.
This will make living along coastlines challenging, and may make agricultural production along coasts difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. Since much of the global population lives along coastlines, there is likely to be a great deal of disruption to much of humanity’s way of life as sea levels continue to rise.
This will most likely result to further expansion into wild habitats inland and their disappearance to make way for agriculture and new settlements.
#6 Possible increased national security risks and conflicts around the world
As natural resources become more scarce in a warmer world, such as access to clean fresh water and scarcity in land that remains suitable for agriculture, the likelihood of conflicts and war may increase as many regions throughout the world become increasingly unstable.
During the times of conflict, animals and ecosystems often suffer greatly when human reckless behavior takes over the areas for longer periods of time.
#7 Economic losses
Entire industries are now being impacted by climate change, including the insurance industry, the agricultural industry, and the fishing industry. Erratic and challenging weather leads to large economic risks and losses, which results in desperate search for cheaper resources and production locations, often opening the doors to exploitation in less developed countries with great natural riches.
#8 Environmental refugees
As sea levels rise and as regions become increasingly inhospitable to life, people will move to places on Earth where it is easier to live and survive. This may cause a great deal of political conflict and space competition as people move outside of their countries of origin and seek new places to live in a world with already limited natural resources.
Climate change doesn’t just impact our economies, lifestyles, or the environment, it will likely impact every area of life on this planet, tipping off the balance and harmony that prevails in healthy, diverse habitats.
Climate change related stress on wildlife and marine life & extinction of more sensitive species
In the context of changing climate, wildlife and marine species will be challenged to adapt to a warmer global climate.
While some species may be able to adapt well and can tolerate warmer temperatures, other species, such as polar bears, may not survive when their primary habitat and other life requirements are no longer met. Such sensitive species may in the end go extinct sooner than later.
There may also be conflict between species, as some species move to more hospitable habitats when their primary habitat changes due to climate change. What is more destabilizing our ecosystems in this way can only worsen the effects of climate change as habitats are rendered weaker and cannot adapt or mitigate the effects of climate change thereby creating a vicious circle .
Examples of animals affected by climate change
The examples of these species show how climate change can have a detrimental effect on our biodiversity.
The stakes are particularly high as already the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that if global temperatures increase more than two to three degrees Fahrenheit above current levels, up to one-third of the species on Earth could be at risk for extinction.
The impacts of climate change on species are clearly illustrated by looking at the cases of the following species, prioritized on the basis of the detrimental effect climate change is having on them.
Shrinking chances for herds of reindeer
One such species is the reindeer found in Eurasia and the caribou which is a North American version of the same species. In both cases, this species are critical to local people for food, shelter, fuel, tools, and other cultural items. But the caribou and reindeer depend on the availability of abundant tundra vegetation and good foraging conditions for their survival, especially during the calving season.
Unfortunately, climate-induced changes to the Arctic tundra are going to cause vegetation zones to shift significantly further north, reducing the natural habitat of these herds .
Climate change is therefore changing the natural habitat of the species by limiting the food sources and therefore the potential to successfully procreate.
Rhinos suffering through droughts
Rhinos are already under extreme pressure, being one of the primary species that is being poached worldwide. Last years have unfortunately proven that Black rhinos are susceptible to droughts as well.
Climate change is therefore exacerbating an already fragile species.
The drought created in turn an increase in the poaching of rhinos for their horn as locals struggled to survive. With droughts set to become more often due to climate change, it is becoming increasingly clear that many species will be impacted as a result .
Raining on chickless golden eagles
And while droughts can have a negative impact on some animals, increased rainfall – also a consequence of climate change – can also have the same effect. High rainfall can negatively affect birds, causing reproductive failures and poor chick condition.
Indeed, flooding has a negative impact on almost all mammals and on ground-nesting birds with free-ranging chicks .
Sea turtle girls preferring warm sand
Sea turtles are another species put at particular risk due to climate change. Rising seas and stormy weather affects turtle species by eroding or destroying many of the beaches where they lay their eggs.
On top of that, it appears that hotter sands also cause greater numbers of sea turtles to be born female. While in the short term, this may increase turtle numbers but in about a century or so, it is likely that significantly warmer sands will cause such a preponderance of females that the species could become extinct. It is also important to note that hotter sand can also cause complete nest failure .
The need for the urgent climate change adaptation and mitigation action to help the wildlife
While many of the impacts listed above are certainly difficult challenges that we and the world’s wildlife is likely to face due to climate change, humans are intelligent and creative creatures that have adapted to challenging environments throughout the history.
If we act swiftly and decisively right now, we also have the opportunity to work on mitigating some of the worst impacts of climate change by choosing to live more sustainably and in harmony with the natural limits of our planet.
This will mean many changes to our way of life, including the ways how we use energy and where that energy comes from, how we produce our food, and a re-examining of our current infinite use of the Earth’s finite resources. All of this is possible, but we must start this sustainable journey today before it is too late.
With our intelligence, we are likely to create some very innovative solutions to help the natural ecosystems with their precious inhabitants adapt to a changing climate and a warmer world.