We’re Underestimating the Impact of Climate Change on Wildlife, Scientists Warn

While many environmental researchers are busy predicting how species will fare in a future affected by climate change, scientists are warning that we are seriously underestimating how they’ve already been affected, especially when it comes to threatened and endangered species.

According to a new study, which was just published in the journal Nature Climate Change, 47 percent of mammals and 23 percent of bird species listed as threatened have already been negatively affected. The authors note that previous estimates found only 7 percent of listed mammals and 4 percent of birds were affected.

For the study, which is believed to be the most comprehensive assessment to date on how climate change is affecting wildlife, scientists reviewed 130 studies on how climate change is affecting more than 2,000 well-studied species and categorized the effect as negative, positive, unchanged or mixed.

While the impact varies among species, and other factors including where they are, how long their typical lifespans are and how specialized their diets are, among other factors that affect their ability to adapt, scientists found that nearly 700 species are already affected.

“It is likely that many of these species have a high probability of being very negatively impacted by expected future changes in the climate,” said lead author Michela Pacifici of the Global Mammal Assessment Program at Sapienza University of Rome.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) explained in a statement that for mammals, rodent species, particularly those who can burrow and avoid extreme weather, were less vulnerable than larger species. Marsupials and primates who live in tropical climates, on the other hand, are far more vulnerable to rising temperatures, as are long-lived species who are slow to reproduce, like elephants and gorillas.

For birds, changes in temperature can have a serious impact on their ability to survive, especially for species who live at high altitudes and colder climates, where they have nowhere to go to avoid a warmer environment. Forest-dependent species in tropical and subtropical areas are also likely to suffer, with troubles being compounded by habitat degradation. Birds who inhabit aquatic environments are also considered to be the most vulnerable, as temperature increases change and fragment their habitats and lead to other problems like algal blooms.

The study’s authors now point to a need for further study and monitoring, especially for populations who are considered most at risk of being negatively affected, and hope that more attention will to be paid to what’s happening right now.

“Our results clearly show that the impact of climate change on mammals and birds to date is currently greatly under-estimated and reported upon,” said co-author of the study Dr. James Watson of the Wildlife Conservation Society and University of Queensland.

“We need to greatly improve assessments of the impacts of climate change on species right now, we need to communicate this to wider public and we need to ensure key decision makers know that something significant needs to happen now to stop species [from] going extinct. Climate change is not a future threat anymore.”

Photo credit: Thinkstock

121 comments

Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thank you for posting.

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla2 years ago

Of course we are, and this is just getting started. Poor planet and nature ;((

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Nang Hai C
Nang Hai C2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Ann B
Ann B2 years ago

the environment is IMPORTANT TO ALL the animals are the first to suffer

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Chen Boon Fook
Chen Boon Fook2 years ago

thanks

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June M
June M2 years ago

Thank you Alicia

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Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Deborah W, indeed! Any material that's harmful to the environment should be banned, no questions asked. And, while it looks like the government won't be doing anything about it anytime soon, there's still those of us who are fighting to make the change with every step they take. Pick up as much litter as you possibly can, even if it's not yours to pick up. Plant lots of trees, shrubs, flowers, grass, etc. Keep protesting your hearts out to insure that no more damage and/pollution is done to the environment, not to mention putting an end to barbaric practices such as trophy hunting/poaching/whaling.

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Deborah W
Deborah W2 years ago

Can anyone explain why plastic bottles and plastic rings holding cans together are OK, while plastic bags are banned. I can -- there are more who plain don't give a shit than do. All the scientific "expertise" and/or projected speculation in the world will doubtless fall on deaf ears and, unless a mindset change occurs big-time. Don't see that happening anytime soon. Still, hope springs eternal ...

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Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Ignorance is spreading everywhere I go, even on this so-called ''caring'' site. Cindy M. D, we don't need the damn administration in order to set things right. They don't care, but we do!!

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Patricia H
Patricia Harris2 years ago

Our extinction is NOT the ONLY damn solution!!! Only a coward could possibly think that!!!

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