The Heat Is On

December 7, 2009

A WCS report, “Species Feeling the Heat: Connecting Deforestation and Climate Change,” highlights the impacts of deforestation and climate change on species around the globe.

Polar bears, long recognized as the poster child for climate change, are not the only species feeling the impacts of climate change. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has released a list of animals facing a host of related threats, in some strange and unexpected ways.

In a new report titled “Species Feeling the Heat: Connecting Deforestation and Climate Change,” WCS profiles more than a dozen animal species and groups impacted by changing land and sea temperatures, shifting rain patterns, exposure to new pathogens and disease, and increased threats of predation.

The report comes out just as leaders from around the world gather in Copenhagen to address climate change issues. It also coincides with the 2010 launch of the International Year of Biodiversity by the United Nations, an effort to raise awareness to reduce the constant loss of biological diversity worldwide. The Convention on Biodiversity, which emerged from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, recently admitted that none of its 2010 biodiversity targets have been met, underscoring the dire situation that wildlife around the world face from climate change and other threats.

The report also highlights the huge role of deforestation in climate change. The burning and cutting of forests causes nearly 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the output of all the world’s trucks, trains, cars, planes, and ships combined. As a result, protecting remaining swaths of forests can help put the brakes on climate change.

“The image of a forlorn looking polar bear on a tiny ice floe has become the public’s image of climate change in nature, but the impact reaches species in nearly every habitat in the world’s wild places,” said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, WCS President and CEO. “In fact, our own researchers are observing direct impacts on a wide range of species across the world.”

The report contains a cross-section of animal species around the globe, including: 

  • Bicknell’s thrush, a bird that breeds and nests in the higher elevations on mountains in northeastern North America. Slight increases in temperature threaten this bird’s breeding habitat.
  • Flamingos, a group impacted by the availability and quality of wetland habitat in the Caribbean, South America, Asia, and Africa.
  • Irrawaddy dolphin, a coastal species that relies on the flow of fresh water from estuaries in Bangladesh and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Changes in freshwater flow and salinity may impact the species’ long-term survival.
  • Musk ox, a species that dwells in the harsh environment of the Arctic tundra. This Pleistocene relic faces a higher risk of predation by grizzly bears, as more bears may move northward into the oxen’s tundra home.
  • Hawksbill turtle, a sea turtle that is highly vulnerable to changes in temperature. Specifically, higher temperatures result in more female hatchlings, a factor that could impact the species’ long-term survival by skewing sex ratios.

Read the press release: New WCS Report Identifies ‘Unsung’ Species Under Stress from Climate Change

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