Global Climate Change Effects On Animals: Half Of Bird Species Could Vanish, Says New Research [REPORT]

By Philip Ross on June 17, 2013 11:05 AM EDT

climate change birds 1
A puffin is seen on Runde, a Norwegian island with an enormous seabird population of between 500,000 and 700,000. Climate change puts bird populations, like the puffin’s, especially at risk of extinction from habitat alteration. (Photo: Reuters)
climate change birds 2
A snowy owl finds its camouflage useless in the brown grass of a marsh in Delta, British Columbia, just south of Vancouver, Canada. Snowy owls usually stay in the arctic, but periodic cycles in their food supply sometimes drive them further south. Rising global temperatures is impacting certain bird species around the world, changing their habitats, food sources and migration cycles. (Photo: Reuters)

Global climate change's effects on animals are not fully understood, but a new study, the most comprehensive reports on climate change and species' adaptation to date, says that between 25 percent and 50 percent of all birds are extremely vulnerable to climate change-induced habitat loss. Additionally, one-third of amphibians and a quarter of corals are highly susceptible to global climate change.

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According to research by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, an international organization that assesses the conservation status of various species around the world, global climate change puts nearly half of all our planet's bird species at risk for extinction. Those in the Amazon and Arctic, where climate change's effects on the environment are most notable, are the most vulnerable.

The IUCN publishes a list, called the Red List of Threatened Species, that details the conservation status of animals; species are presented on a scale ranging from "Least Concern" to simply "Extinct."

"When the Red List was invented, it was long before anyone worried about climate change," Wendy Foden of IUCN told New Scientist.

New Scientist reports that in the most comprehensive study ever to look at climate change's effects on animals, researchers at IUCN mapped the habitats where species currently live, and then compared these to how those same habitats will look after climate change has altered them. The scientists also took into account species' abilities to evolve -- those able to reproduce more quickly having a better chance of surviving rising global temperatures.

"Global warming is something that all conservationists are worried about," Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, told Time magazine. "It has the possibility to undo a lot of the work we've done."

According to the New York Times, global temperatures are higher now than at any time in the past 4,000 years. Over the coming decades, rising temperatures are expected to surpass levels not seen since prior to the last ice age, which ended about 12,000 years ago. From the Times:

Even if the temperature increase from human activity that is projected for later this century comes out on the low end of estimates, scientists said, the planet will be at least as warm as it was during the warmest periods of the modern geological era, known as the Holocene, and probably warmer than that.

Time magazine reports that animals, unlike humans, are not very good at adapting to changes to their environments. Whereas humans can pick up and move, animals don't have that same mobility. If temperatures increase in an area, an animal would have to go north or south to escape warming temperatures, but often can't. Instead, they have to move up or down in elevation; but if there's nowhere to go, the species will likely die off.

Read more from iScience Times:

Ellesmere Island Teardrop Glacier Moss: What Do Frozen Arctic Plants Tell Us About Climate Change?

Mayan 2012: Report Concludes Climate Change To Blame For End Of Civilization

Generation X Doesn't Care About Climate Change

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