Climate change increases threat of species extinction

• May 1, 2013
Koala bears could face species extinction because of climate impacts, Creative commons: Corey Leopold, 2008

Koala bears could face species extinction because of climate impacts, Creative commons: Corey Leopold, 2008

Species extinction is becoming a more worrying possibility as the impacts of climate change continue to emerge, altering the stable weather conditions that plants and animals depend upon.

New research published in Nature Climate Change found that if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius, about 5% of land would shift into a new climate zone. If these climatic shifts occur rapidly – a real possibility given rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide – species may not have time to handle the changes, and may face extinction.

Many species around the world are adapted to live in very specific habitat conditions, such as hot arid deserts or freezing tundras. Scientists have classified many such ‘climate zones,’ and are able to predict what kinds of life are well suited to living in these areas.

Scientists’ geographic classifications for these climate zones are being thrown off kilter by rising greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is causing weather patterns in these regions to shift, altering what plant and animal life is best suited to living there. For example, frost climates will begin to shrink, arid zones will increase, and regions that once experienced cool summers will get hotter.

If these changes happen too quickly for life in a region to cope, it could cause species extinction.

One example of a species threatened by shifting climate zones is the koala bear, native only to Australia. The nation has experienced intense periods of drought and heat, with average maximum temperatures beginning to rise above what koala bears can typically handle – putting them at high risk.

“In the past decade, we have experienced the hottest temperatures on record followed by floods and cyclones. The koalas are highly susceptible to heat stress and dehydration,” University of Queensland koala expert Dr. Clive McAlpine told IPS.

Additionally, deforestation of eucalypt forests in Australia is destroying the koala’s natural habitat and contributing to rising greenhouse gas emissions. Many activities related to extracting fossil fuels, such as coal mining and truck traffic, are also threatening koalas and their habitat.

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About the Author

Emily is a graduate of St. Mary's College of Maryland with a B.A. in psychology. While in school, she spent her time leading environmental and social justice campaigns. She recently worked for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network as a grassroots organizer for a moratorium on natural gas fracking in Maryland.

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