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Climate Change: Impact on Wildlife
Climate change can be defined as a change in climatic patterns resulting from increases in the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. These gases form some kind of blanket that not only gets thicker, but also makes the planet warmer with increasing gas levels. This temperature increase alters the planet's climate, giving rise to unpredictable and extreme weather. As a result of climate change and more frequent heat waves, more and more places are experiencing periods of record drought that are immediately followed by acute rainfalls, and which greatly affect the natural balance between people, plants, wildlife, and fish. Moreover, the planet's oceans and seas "are also absorbing some of this extra carbon dioxide, making them more acidic and less hospitable for sea life" (WWF). In summary, climate change not only threatens the natural systems, but also puts the quality of life at risk, and ought to be addressed fast using appropriate management strategies for climate adaptation.
Climate change affects almost all aspects of life, including humans. This text concerns itself with the effect of climate change on wildlife. Before embarking on the main discussion, it would be prudent to outline the causes of climate change as well as the changes it has brought about.
Causes of Climate Change
Deforestation: forests maintain some kind of balance in the atmosphere via the absorption of substantial carbon dioxide amounts. Deforestation reduces the levels of carbon dioxide absorbed by forests, leaving huge amounts of it to circulate in the atmosphere (WWF).
Fossil Fuels: when fossil fuels including, but not limited to, coal, oil, and natural gas are burnt, they generate power, but, at the same time, emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide. This kind of energy generation is thought to release approximately 23 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, with coal being ranked as the most damaging of the three (WWF).
The specific changes that have resulted from rapid warming include coastal erosion and flooding, ocean acidification, falling sea ice levels, rising sea levels, water shortages, catastrophic wildfires, and shifts in storm and rainfall patterns (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
The Impact of the Observed Changes on Wildlife
Habitat Transformation: rising sea levels result in the loss of coastal habitats. Due to rising air and water temperatures, such features as wetlands and sea ice which offer habitat features to species such as polar bears are modified, forcing the species to either adopt or migrate to more hospitable environments (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Moreover, species such as pikas, coral, and salmon, which are rather lethal to temperature changes, could soon become extinct (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Changes in Timing: significant shifts have been noted in the breeding and flowering patterns exhibited by wildlife. The Tree Swallow bird species of North America has, for instance, been observed to "begin egg-laying over a week earlier than in the past" (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). This could be disastrous, resulting in massive species loss, especially if young ones "hatch before insect food is plentiful" (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
Increasing Temperatures: increases in the average temperatures of water and air have affected both terrestrial and marine species (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Coral, whose thermal tolerance is so narrow that even the smallest increase in temperature could sufficiently drive them over their limits have been most affected. In 2005 (the warmest year in history), 20% of the coral in the Caribbean died from bleaching caused by rapid warming (Cummings and Siegel, 150).
Range Shifting: species would naturally be found in places that offer climatic conditions favorable to their adaptations. Climate change has resulted in significant alterations in climatic conditions, causing "the geographic ranges of many species" to move towards cooler regions (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Some butterfly species in the U.S. are reported to "have shifted northward and contracted upward in elevation over the last century" (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).
The Spread of Diseases and Pests: rapid warming has facilitated the emergence of new pest species, parasite, and pathogens, and hence led to the emergence, and subsequently, the rapid spread of new wildlife diseases (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Rising temperatures in North America have caused the "black-legged tick which carries and transmits Lyme disease,…[continue]
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