Nature today | The consequences of climate change for animals on Earth

Climate change threatens biodiversity

The Earth is now about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the 19th century, and based on current projections, the global temperature will rise by 2.7°C by the end of the century. It is impossible to predict exactly how long-term changes in temperature and weather patterns will affect our planet’s fragile and intertwined ecosystems. Changes in one area affect changes in other areas and animals will feel the effect. Some of the biggest threats the climate poses to wildlife include:

Habitat loss: Rising temperatures affect vegetation, food sources, access to water, and more. Ecosystems can become uninhabitable for certain animals, forcing them to migrate out of their usual patterns in search of food and livable conditions, while others become extinct.

For example, if habitat loss and fragmentation from human development and global warming continues with their current methods – along with deaths from poaching – we could lose Africa’s elephants in the next 40 years.

natural disasters: We are already facing a fivefold increase in climate and weather-related natural disasters such as droughts, wildfires and hurricanes than we did fifty years ago. These disasters cause huge loss of life and habitat of people, pets and wildlife.

Australian bushfires in the 2019-20 season destroyed 186,000 square kilometers of forest and killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion koalas, kangaroos and other animals.

Conflicts between humans and animals: Climate change exacerbates conflict between humans and animals through habitat loss and extreme weather events. This forces people and animals to share the increasingly crowded available space. As ecosystems change, humans and wildlife roam farther in search of food, water, and resources. Conflicts between humans and animals often have serious consequences for the animals involved.

For example, tigers sometimes prey on domestic animals, resulting in retaliatory deaths that dwarf already dwindling jaguars.

Extinct:The combination of challenges could lead to the extinction of many animals. The world’s weakest animals, including those on the verge of extinction, bear the brunt.

right northern whale For example, it is teetering on the brink of extinction: an estimated 336 specimens remain. It’s the lowest number in 20 years. Ocean warming, with ships colliding and entanglement in fishing gear, could lead to the extinction of this species.

Animals and Their Habitats: Our Allies in the Fight Against Climate Change

Fortunately, we have a powerful ally in our fight against climate change: animals and ecosystems are part of it. The United Nations estimates that healthy ecosystems can provide the 37 percent reduction in carbon needed to limit global warming.

Healthy ecosystems with many plants and trees absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. Thus, preserving or restoring nature is a powerful tool in the race to halt climate change. Healthy ecosystems also filter water, prevent floods, reduce the impact of disasters, improve soil health, and support a rich biodiversity. Major species and almost all animals play an important, sometimes invisible role in biodiversity protection and habitat conservation.

The importance of whales to healthy seas

For example, whales play an important role in supporting the health of the seas. Whale droppings provide nutrients to the phytoplankton. Phytoplankton, like plants, capture large amounts of carbon dioxide2 and converting it into energy, removing carbon from the atmosphere. When other marine animals eat phytoplankton, such as whales, the carbon continues to flow through the food web, staying out of the atmosphere and not contributing to global warming.

The elephant as a gardener and landscape architect

Elephants play an important role in creating healthy ecosystems, which in turn release carbon dioxide2 Absorbs it and keeps it out of the atmosphere. As they move, elephants spread seeds, fertilize the soil, dig wells, create paths for other animals, and provide free space that promotes new plant growth.

The importance of pangolins to ecosystems

Pangolins, or pangolins, eat ants and termites, keeping these populations organized. They also dig burrows used by other animals. Both are essential in the ecosystems in which pangolins live.

Many other animals play equally important roles in the ecosystems in which they live.

Together we make the difference

International Fund for Animal Welfare IFAW works on a future where people and animals can live together in balance. We operate in more than 40 countries around the world, spanning across seas and oceans. We work with local communities, governments, NGOs and businesses. Together we work on new and innovative ways to help all species thrive.

Making a difference starts with taking action. Make your voice heard for the animals that need us most.

Nelson Malanga, International Women's Program Officer, examines the Matetse Unit 5, part of the landscape of the Hwange Matetse Zambezi in northwestern Zimbabwe.

Text: IFAW
Photos: Rudy van Arde; Vanessa Minion IFAW

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