Imperiled species already impacted by climate change

By Dana Kobilinsky

Mammals such as the white rhino are negatively impacted by climate change. Impacts on threatened and endangered species have been underreported, according to recent research. ©Julie Larsen Maher/WCS

Almost half of the mammals and a quarter of the birds on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are already being negatively impacted by climate change, according to new research.

As part of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers conducted a meta-analysis in which they reviewed 130 studies on climate change impacts on wildlife around the world. The research looked at a total of about 700 mammals and birds, most of which were threatened or endangered, and the effects of climate change such as warming and drying conditions on the species.

“A lot of the science around climate change was forecasting,” said co-author James Watson, the director of science at the Wildlife Conservation Society, a nonprofit dedicated to wildlife protection. “It wasn’t taking into account what has already changed today.”

While past research showed that only 7 percent of mammals and 4 percent of birds on the Red List were impacted, this research suggests many of the effects on the species studied were underreported. Watson and his colleagues estimated that 47 percent of threatened mammals and about 23 percent of threatened bird species are being negatively affected by climate change.

The research found that many primates and marsupials are vulnerable to quick changes in the environment and extreme climate change conditions. Climate change also yielded negative responses in birds’ breeding and nonbreeding areas. Many of the species negatively affected by climate change are in aquatic environments, researchers found, where they are vulnerable habitat loss, fragmentation and other factors caused by rising temperatures.

Watson said it’s important to pay attention to current impacts on wildlife species rather than focusing only on future forecasts when considering conservation measures. “I think the most important thing is climate change is not a future event and is happening now,” he said.

Dana KobilinskyDana Kobilinsky is a science writer at The Wildlife Society. Contact her at dkobilinsky@wildlife.org with any questions or comments about her article. You can follow her on Twitter at @DanaKobi.

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