Effects on Wildlife Habitats
Climate change affects every aspect of the environment and wildlife habitats are no exception. As temperatures continue to rise, climates shift, ocean levels rise, and weather abnormalities become more extreme and frequent, wildlife habitats are at great risk of being negatively affected. In the past few centuries, humans have put great pressure on the environment which has resulted in a drastic change in the climate, causing a vast array of species and their habitats to be threatened.
The Effect of Climate Change on Wildlife Habitats
Climate change affects different habitats in different ways. In the Arctic, the Earth’s average surface temperature has increased over the past several decades, leading to shorter winters, earlier seasonal snowmelt, and widespread glacial retreat. These changes can have long-lasting effects on Arctic habitat and disrupt the behavior of animals that live there as their environment has shifted. For example, Arctic marine animals such as walruses and polar bears rely on sea ice for feeding, breeding, and commuting. As the sea ice melts early and recedes further from its normal levels, the life cycle of these animals is put in jeopardy.
In temperate climates, the effects of climate change have been observed as increased temperatures and more extreme bouts of drought. This has caused changes in the abundance and distribution of certain species of wildlife. Warmer temperatures increase the metabolism of more southern species of birds, plants, and insects and make their habitat suitable for more northern species with higher tolerances for heat. As such, Northern species have been making their way further south as climate change progresses.
Climate change is also thought to be a cause of the well-documented “Birds of Prey” health crisis. This phenomenon is defined by higher mortality rates of raptors, or birds of prey, found in North America and Europe. Scientists have attributed this to an increase in temperature and an increase in their tropospheric concentration of the pesticide DDT and other pollutants. These increases in toxicity have caused the birds of prey to be exposed to a higher level of pollutants which, in turn, have been linked to diseases and reproductive issues throughout the species.
The Impact of Climate Change on Species Extinction
With drastic changes in the climate come drastic changes to wildlife habitats and the habitats of many species. The most notable change is the increase in species extinction that is closely attributed to climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that there has been a significant decrease in the overall number of species affected by climate change in the past few centuries. Knowing the scope of this systematic extinction, conservation efforts have been especially focused on the species that are most threatened by climate change.
One species that is heavily threatened by climate change, and is the subject of several conservation efforts, is the giant panda. This species lives in a small and altitude-restricted habitat around central and western China. Unfortunately, this species’ habitat is also heavily affected by climate change. Specifically, deforestation and warming temperatures have reduced the range of suitable habitat for pandas, leading to further endangerment.
Another species that has been severely affected by climate change is the polar bear, who have seen drastic changes in their habitat due to melting icecaps in the Arctic. This death of their habitat has caused population decreases in some polar bear subpopulations and has caused their current habitat range to shrink drastically. This issue is exacerbated by increased hunting pressure as the polar bear habitat decreases.
Climate change is a major factor that influences the world’s wildlife habitats today. As temperatures continue to rise, weather and landscape abnormalities become more extreme, and coastal habitats are threatened by rising ocean levels, certain species are at greater risk of habitat loss and extinction. Species such as the giant panda and polar bear are severely affected by these changes as their habitat is rapidly shrinking or is subject to increased hunting pressure. In order to preserve these species, conservation efforts have become exceptionally focused on preventing the extinction of species threatened by climate change. This may involve introducing habitat restoration projects, reintroducing species, and managing the land for more effective conservation efforts. Ultimately, the preservation of wildlife habitats and species affected by climate change is imperative for the future of the planet.