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.

WCS Projects

Alaska’s Migratory Birds Cope with Climate Change

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 Feel the Heat

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

Penguin Chicks Face Increasing Risks February 3, 2014

The life of a young Magellanic penguin has never been easy. Now, a new study shows that the vulnerable chicks face additional threats to their survival from climate change.

We've Been Asking the Wrong Questions about ConservationJuly 29, 2013

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.

Walruses Move Ashore as Sea Ice MeltsMarch 30, 2012

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.

In the Arctic, Fewer Icebergs, More ShipsMarch 16, 2012

Marine mammals contend with new industrial developments in the Arctic as local waters become increasingly ice-free during the summer and fall.

Mapping Montana for Climate ChangeJune 23, 2011

A WCS conservationist maps out a climate change survival plan for species living within Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem.


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