Species and Climate Change:More than just the Polar Bear
The Polar Bear has come to symbolise the impacts of climate change on the natural world. But it is only one of a multitude of species affected, and many of these are also well-known, much-loved and important to people. This report presents 10 new climate change flagship species, chosen to represent the impact that climate change is likely to have on land and in our oceans and rivers.
We cover some of the existing and anticipated threats to these 10 well-known species. They illustrate some of the many and varied ways that climate change impacts different regions of the world, from African deserts to the polar ice-caps. We hope these species can help to share the Polar Bear’s burden in representing the effects of climate change on our natural world, and the millions of species with whom we share the planet.
Staghorn corals are severely impacted by bleaching and disease. They highlight impacts of rising sea temperatures and increasing ocean acidification due to climate change.
Ringed Seal reproduction is being disrupted as the ice upon which they live and breed melts. They highlight impacts of Arctic ice melt due to climate change.
Leatherback Turtle nesting beaches are being washed away, while rising sand temperatures during egg incubation lead to disproportionately lower numbers of males. They highlight impacts of increasing air and sea temperatures, rising sea levels and changing ocean currents due to climate change.
Emperor Penguins are predicted to lose sea ice platforms for breeding and face changes in food availability. They highlight impacts of rising sea temperatures and melting sea ice due to climate change.
Quiver Trees are losing populations in the equator-ward parts of their distribution range due to drought stress. They highlight problems that all plants and slow-moving species face in keeping up with rapidly accelerating changing climate.
Clownfish’s coral reef habitats are under severe threat and their ability to find their protective host anemones is being disrupted. They highlight impacts of coral reef degradation, increasing ocean acidification and warming oceans due to climate change.
Arctic Foxes face habitat loss, competition and predation from Red Foxes, together with changes in population cycles of their prey. They highlight climate change’s disruptive effects on interactions between species.
Salmon’s freshwater habitats are facing warming and altered seasonal flows, while food availability in their marine ranges may shift. They highlight the effects of rising temperatures on both freshwater and marine ecosystems, and illustrate how climate change impacts on wild species can have a direct effect on economies.
Koalas are experiencing malnutrition as Eucalyptus leaves decline in nutrient richness. They highlight effects of elevated CO2 levels on plants and on the animals that rely on them for food.
Beluga Whales are losing their refuges from humans as Arctic sea ice melts, and also face new competitors, predators and diseases. In addition to melting sea ice impacts, they highlight climate change’s indirect effects of worsening existing threats from people.
These species are not committed to extinction due to climate change. Species can usually adapt if conditions change sufficiently slowly. Worsening climate change effects are inevitable because of the lag-effects of the greenhouse gasses that we’ve already emitted. But it is not too late. If our governments commit to strong and timely targets to reduce emissions, and adhere to them, we can slow the pace of climate change and give these and other species a chance to survive.
What can you do to safeguard a future for these species?
1. Reduce your use of energy from fossil fuels.
2. Ensure that your leaders make and adhere to strong commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions now.
3. Spread the word about the effects of climate change on the world’s species.
4. Find a way to support conservation where you live, and support a conservation organisation working to safeguard species at risk from climate change.
For more information on IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and our work on climate change, please contact:
Simon Stuart: Chairperson, IUCN Species Survival Commission
Wendy Foden: Programme Officer - Climate Change, IUCN Species Programme