A large-scale global study has showed that more animal species are being negatively affected by climate change than previously reported. Most of these species are not fully protected and are understudied. The findings are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, which are mostly attributed to the burning of fossil fuels, are leading to rapid climate change. As the environment continues to change, animals must quickly adapt or risk extinction. Climate change is thought to affect most animals and this has led to more species being listed as “threatened by climate change and severe weather” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. The majority of scientists agree that climate change will have serious impacts on most species and will result in an overall loss of biodiversity.
Researchers from the University of Queensland collaborated with scientists from a number of organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society, to study the effects of climate change on mammal and bird species. The research team had noticed that while there were many studies on how climate change was affecting specific species, there had been no large-scale research conducted to determine the percentage of animals that were currently being impacted. The team utilized existing research and databases to perform a general review of the status of threatened bird and mammal species. In total, the researchers examined data from 873 mammal species and 1,272 bird species. While some of these animals were already listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as threatened by climate change, most had no such listings.
The research team found that 47% of the studied terrestrial mammal species and 23.4% of the studied birds were already experiencing negative impacts caused by climate change, including serious population declines. The researchers concluded that a large number of threatened birds and mammals are already being harmed by climate change. Conservation plans for these species need to be developed now; the authors emphasize that this is not a future problem but rather a serious issue that’s already affecting a large number of animals. The team hopes that conservationists and policy makers can use this new data to plan immediate protective actions for threatened animal species.
Pacifici et al. Species’ traits influenced their response to recent climate change. Nature Climate Change (2017).