The gradual rise of global temperatures has dire implications for the future of the planet, with dangers ranging from extreme weather patterns to environmental strain. Yet one less discussed consequence of rising temperatures is the impact on animals – many species facing extinction due to climate change related trends. While some species may benefit from the increased warmth, their overall population numbers could still decline, making them more vulnerable to further environmental threats like poaching and habitat destruction.
The higher temperatures brought on by global warming can cause environments to become dryer and drier, which can be hazardous to animals that rely on freshwater sources like rivers, lakes and ponds. Amphibians, such as salamanders and frogs, are particularly vulnerable as their semi-aquatic habitats become too hot for them to survive in. When coupled with their slower reproductive rate which means populations can take much longer to recover from losses, the end result can be a severe decline in population numbers if preventive actions are not taken.
Other species changes brought on by global warming include changes to animals’ seasonal migration patterns, which can be particularly fragile as species face radical shifts in their habitat requirements. Certain species may also find themselves competing for food or resources as their habitats become increasingly unfamiliar, leading to increased competition and stress. Birds, for example, have been found to have an increased risk of death if their migratory patterns are disrupted due to rising temperatures.
Research has also highlighted how animals can experience increased health risks due to rising temperatures and associated climate change. Heat-related illnesses and dehydration, for example, can lead to the demise of young, elderly, sick and pregnant animals. Furthermore, higher temperatures can accelerate the life cycles of parasites, prolonging their effects on species and causing them to become unsustainable.
What’s more, higher temperatures can increase the prevalence of disease among animal populations. Warmer climates are ideal breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses, while environmental pollutants like ozone are increasingly becoming a factor in rising animal mortality rates. This troubling trend has been observed in polar bear populations, with increasing instances of disease and skin lesions being linked to pollutants.
In some cases, global warming does not directly contribute to the demise of certain animal populations, but can be a factor in indirectly hastening their decline. For example, increasing temperatures cause some species to become more vulnerable to predation as their behaviour and instinctive protection strategies are impaired. This can have devastating effects on populations, such as the decline in krill populations due to higher temperatures in the Antarctic Ocean.
Another example is how rising global temperatures can reduce the level of oxygen in water, putting aquatic species under greater stress and leaving them more prone to environmental changes. Similarly, higher temperatures can cause a shift in species composition which can disrupt existing ecosystems, leading to a decline in biodiversity.
As global warming becomes a more pressing issue, the need to develop solutions that protect the precarious status of animal populations becomes ever clearer. Governments, organizations and the general public must come together to raise awareness, implement preventive actions and develop technologies that can provide viable solutions. Action needs to be rapid and concise, as time is running out for some of the world’s most threatened species.