The effects of climate change are becoming increasingly clear: Earlier this year a report from the International Panel on Climate Change warned that now that we have exceeded 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming, the impacts are already being felt around the world, from still smoldering forest fires to historical droughts.
Experts stress the need to address both climate change and biodiversity loss, as the two are inextricably linked. Here are some of the ways climate change is affecting Earth’s biodiversity.
‘Rainforests of the sea’ under pressure
(Credit: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock)
Rising temperatures and ocean acidification can stress coral reefs, increasing so-called “bleaching events.” When exposed, corals shed the life-giving algae that live within them, leaving them ghostly white.
By 2050, 90 percent of the world’s coral reefs could undergo annual bleaching, according to the conservation NGO Coral Reef Alliance. Such events can cause a additional effect for numerous species that rely on reefs—up to 25 percent of known marine species—potentially causing long-term losses. One estimate states that approx 50 percent of the reefs are already deteriorating due to climate change and other pressures such as overfishing and pollution. The good news is that research shows that reefs can (and will) adapt to moderate warmingif he has the opportunity to do so.
Changing animal behavior
A changing climate is also causing changes in wildlife behaviour. A meta-analysis of about 100 species — including fish, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals — published in the journal Oikos noted that human-induced environmental change is already doing just that. Climate change has caused the strongest response across species, the researchers found, including increases in boldness and exploration.
There were other changes as well. In the Arctic, researchers have found this calves are born earlier in the spring than usual, “roughly tracking warming rates,” according to a press release. Birds are too nesting earlier than usual. The effects of climate change combined with other changes such as habitat lossalso mean that some types of birds, such as robinhave more offspring than usual, while others, such as the garden nettle, have fewer.
Meanwhile, there are leatherback sea turtles in the Pacific Ocean migrate further to find cool areas for feeding after nesting. Researchers in French Guiana, supported by Greenpeace, tracked ten turtles and found that the animals walked twice his usual distance when migrating north. others marine species are also on the move, including iconic sharks like Big white. And these migratory changes do not occur in isolation, but instead send ripples through entire ecosystems: The unprecedented arrival of young great white sharks along California’s central coast, for example, puts endangered species (such as the California otter) at even greater risk.
Island life at risk
The Meloms of Bramble Cay lived solely on a small island at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef. It was destroyed in 2016 by rising sea levels. (Credit: Ian Bell/EHP/State of Queensland/Wikimedia Commons)
Species that live exclusively on islands are particularly at risk of extinction from climate change. The islands hold many of the world’s most spectacular flora and fauna, but researchers warn that the same conditions that give rise to these wonders make them vulnerable. Many islanders survive by exploiting specific niches and the ability to live within limited boundaries, which also makes them more vulnerable to habitat loss, sea-level rise, and increasingly violent—and more frequent—storms.
In 2015, the effects of sea level rise on the small island habitat of the Bramble Cay melomyses, a small rodent, led to its extinction, making it one of the first victims of climate change for the entire species.
Plant life in motion
The relationship between plants climate change is a complex. Increasing CO2 can stimulate more growth, but as water availability varies, temperatures change and climate extremes occur, plants can also remain vulnerable. The result is change in global plant life. Some species move upward or poleward, while those that don’t mind the heatmove down.
In the UK, climate change is causing wildflowers to relocate. in 2020 citizen scientists observed bushels of plants appearing in new areas, migrations that are associated with drought-like conditions in the country. Wild orchids, such as the Southern Marsh Orchid, once restricted to southern England, can now be found further north. Meanwhile, bee orchids, whose flowers resemble a bee’s back, have been spotted for the first time in Scotland.
Like the mythical entities of J. RR Tolkien, trees are also in motion. Perhaps the most visible dramatic effect on forests right now is raging wildfires. In the United States, climate change is projected to increase the extent, intensity and frequency of wildfires in certain parts of the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. these fires research suggests, contribute to the shift of some tree species in the western states to cooler and wetter areas. So is the drought fueling this change in Earth’s forest mosaic: Satellite images show that coniferous forests are shift to the north and white spruce, another boreal species, have started emerging in the Arcticmuch earlier than expected.