Climate Change and Wildlife
- arctic-buffalo Photo
- Musk oxen are among the wildlife that cope with the changing landscape that shifts their range and habits.
- ©Steve Zack
As the Earth warms, nature takes note. The effects of climate change—which include an earlier spring, the changing pH of the ocean, and shrinking ice caps—are varied, and affect life at all levels of the ecosystem. As wildlife populations cope with the changing landscape, their range and habits must often shift dramatically. The timing of annual events such as spring migrations, the mating season, and winter hibernation, are disrupted. This not only tests their own survival skills, it affects the entire web of life, so dependent on seasonal rhythms to thrive.
To address the impacts of human activities as they
relate to climate change, WCS is working with local communities and
industries involved in resource extraction. Our conservationists assess
the effects of activities such as oil drilling or fishing on vulnerable
landscapes and seascapes, and determine which extraction methods pose
the least risk. This will allow us to avoid worsening the already grave
threats to these ecosystems posed by climate change disturbances, and
help those that are most resilient to recover.
The Arctic coastal plain of Alaska serves as the spring nesting ground for millions of shorebirds, waterfowl, loons, and other types of birds. Climate change is interfering with their migration, nesting, and feeding patterns. WCS-North America conservationists study how the birds cope with the changing landscape, and identify key areas for conservation.
Coral reefs, sometimes referred to as “the tropical rainforests of the oceans,” contain some of the most diverse concentrations of life on the planet. As the surface temperature of the ocean warms, these fragile ecosystems are prone to bleaching events, and eventually, to death. WCS marine researchers map the global stress on corals throughout their range, and study which reefs are most resilient to environmental changes.
From the Newsroom
Dr James Watson, director of WCS’s Global Climate Change Program, explains that to understand the impacts of climate change on wildlife, we must first address the ways in which humans are changing their behaviors in response to the warming planet.
As their sea ice habitat diminishes in the Arctic, Pacific walruses increasingly use coastal lands to haul out, and feed in the surrounding shallow waters. Because this phenomenon poses new threats to walrus populations, conservationists are adopting new strategies to monitor and protect them.
Marine mammals contend with new industrial developments in the Arctic as local waters become increasingly ice-free during the summer and fall.
A WCS conservationist maps out a climate change survival plan for species living
within Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem.
Despite its low profile, the musk ox has persisted through the Pleistocene exinctions, outlasting the woolly mammoth and other prehistoric mammals. WCS Senior Scientist Joel Berger studies America’s least known large mammal and its unusual survival tactics.