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Cli­mate change impacts on threat­ened and endan­gered wildlife is mas­sively underreported

pub­lished 18 Feb­ru­ary 2017 | mod­i­fied 18 Feb­ru­ary 2017

A team of sci­en­tists say that neg­a­tive impacts of cli­mate change on threat­ened and endan­gered wildlife have been mas­sively underreported.

Cheetah by Julie Larsen MaherIn a new analy­sis, authors found that nearly half of the mam­mal species and nearly a quar­ter of the bird species on the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species are neg­a­tively impacted by cli­mate change, with nearly 700 species affected. Pre­vi­ous assess­ments said only seven per­cent of mam­mal species and four per­cent of bird species on the Red List were impacted.

The paper that has been pub­lished on 13 Feb­ru­ary in the jour­nal Nature Cli­mate Change reviewed 130 stud­ies, mak­ing it the most com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment to date on how cli­mate change is affect­ing our most well-​studied species.

Our results clearly show that the impact of cli­mate change on mam­mals and birds to date is cur­rently greatly under-​estimated and reported upon
Dr James Wat­son, co-​author, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Soci­ety and Uni­ver­sity of Queensland »

Impacts for mam­mals are wide rang­ing and include a lower abil­ity to exploit resources and adapt to new envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions. For exam­ple, pri­mates and mar­su­pi­als, many of which have evolved in sta­ble trop­i­cal areas, are vul­ner­a­ble to rapid changes and extreme events brought on by cli­mate change. In addi­tion, pri­mates and ele­phants, which are char­ac­ter­ized by very slow repro­duc­tive rates that reduce their abil­ity to adapt to rapid changes in envi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions, are also vul­ner­a­ble. On the other hand, rodent species that can bur­row, and thus avoid some extreme con­di­tions, will be less vulnerable.

For birds, neg­a­tive responses in both breed­ing and non-​breeding areas were gen­er­ally observed in species that expe­ri­enced large changes in tem­per­a­tures in the past 60 years, live at high alti­tudes, and have low tem­per­a­ture sea­son­al­ity within their dis­tri­b­u­tions. Many impacted species inhabit aquatic envi­ron­ments, which are con­sid­ered among the most vul­ner­a­ble to tem­per­a­ture increase due to habi­tat loss, frag­men­ta­tion, and harm­ful algal blooms. In addi­tion, changes in cli­mate in trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal for­est areas, already exac­er­bated by habi­tat degra­da­tion, may threaten forest-​dependent species.

Lead author Michela Paci­fici of the Global Mam­mal Assess­ment Pro­gram at Sapienza Uni­ver­sity of Rome said: “It is likely that many of these species have a high prob­a­bil­ity of being very neg­a­tively impacted by expected future changes in the cli­mate.” And co-​author Dr James Wat­son added: “Our results clearly show that the impact of cli­mate change on mam­mals and birds to date is cur­rently greatly under-​estimated and reported upon. We need to greatly improve assess­ments of the impacts of cli­mate change on species right now, we need to com­mu­ni­cate this to wider pub­lic and we need to ensure key deci­sions mak­ers know that some­thing sig­nif­i­cant needs to hap­pen now to stop species going extinct. Cli­mate change is not a future threat anymore.”

The authors rec­om­mend that research and con­ser­va­tion efforts give greater atten­tion to the ‘here and now’ of cli­mate change impacts on life on Earth. This also has sig­nif­i­cant impli­ca­tions for inter­gov­ern­men­tal pol­icy fora such as the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity and the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Science-​Policy Plat­form on Bio­di­ver­sity and Ecosys­tem Ser­vices, and the revi­sion of the strate­gic plan of the United Nation Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change.

(Source: WCS news release, 13.02.2017)

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