Climate Change Has Already Had a Negative Impact on Animals on Every Continent
A new study has revealed that we have underestimated the impact climate change has had on endangered species around the world. These effects have been particularly traumatic for mammals and birds on the endangered species list – even species included on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s “red list.”
According to the study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, global warming has already impacted approximately 700 species on the “red list” – about half of the mammals and nearly a quarter of the birds. This research shows that climate change isn’t a threat that may present itself at some point in the future, but a real issue that is having a negative impact on the earth today.
“It’s a scientific problem in that we are not thinking about climate change as a present-day problem, we’re always forecasting into the future,” said James Watson, a researcher at Australia’s University of Queensland. “When you look at the evidence, there is a massive amount of impact right now.”
Most climate studies that focus on biodiversity examine the potential impacts of global warming that could be seen in 50 to 100 years. However, the findings of a team of researchers who investigated more than 100 earlier studies showed that the range of animals that have now been impacted by global warming is already broad enough to include animals present on every continent.
“We have seriously underestimated the effects of climate change on the most well-known groups, which means those other groups, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants, the story is going to be much, much worse in terms of what we think the threat is from climate change already,” Watson said.
Animals that eat specific diets or live in high altitudes have been hit especially hard by the effects of climate chance, but researchers have reported declining numbers even in animals with wide ranging diets. Included on the list are all species of elephants, snow leopards, eastern gorillas, and many types of birds.
Researchers found that animals that breed more slowly and evolved in stable, tropical climates struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing environment – making them more vulnerable to the extreme weather events and fluctuating temperatures caused by climate change. And according to Michela Pacifici with the Global Mammal Assessment program at Sapienza University of Rome, a lead author of the study, predictions show that these animals are even more at risk in the future.
“It is likely that many of these species have a high probability of being very negatively impacted by future changes in the climate,” she said.
According to researchers, the findings of the study may not be as applicable for animals in Africa, Asia, and South Amercia, as the more studied animals and environments have been in North America and Europe. However, the message of the study, that the changing planet is harming animals already and needs to be addressed by policymakers, is still coming through loud and clear. Climate change is not a problem for the future – it’s a problem of today, and should be treated like the threat it is.