The world’s wildlife population have decreased by over 50% in just 40 years – according to a new report published by WWF, which shows climate change was a major factor, along with habitat loss and exploitation.
The 2014 Living Planet Report, identified climate change as one of the nine ‘planetary boundaries’ that will have a huge impact on wildlife, and on humans too.
Climate change, biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle have all been ‘overstepped’ and so are causing damage to the habitats and animal populations.
Climate change is particularly dangerous to wildlife as it aggravates other components of biodiversity loss, such as habitat modification, over-exploitation, pollution, and the arrival of invasive species which alter eco-systems.
The report also suggested that climate change is likely to become a more prevalent factor over the next 40 years. Indeed, from 2005-2010, climate change was listed as the main threat to biodiversity and biocapacity in an increasing number of regions and populations.
The report stated that climate change has caused a decline in the populations of many species, and is having a particularly adverse effect in vulnerable ecosystems like coral reefs, mountains, and the Arctic region.
Climate change has been found to affect a range of wildlife populations and regions. For instance, climate change has been listed as one of the dangers coral reefs – along with outdated fishing practices and water pollution – with reef coral cover halving since 1985. Current estimations suggest that one- to two-thirds of the planet’s coral reefs will experience long-term degradation.
Climate change has also been linked to the population decline – and possible extinction – of many different species, including amphibian species in the Neotropic and Australian regions and in the Arctic, the impact of an increasingly warmer climate has been indicated as the reason behind the declining populations of both caribou and polar bears.
Climate change has also had negative effects on the quality and quantity of fish stocks and other marine ecosystems; rising sea-levels caused by climate change cause sea-surface temperature to increase, having serious adverse effects in semi-enclosed seas and coastal nurseries.
Moreover, even if global warming stays below the 2C ‘safe’ limit, even slight temperature increase poses a significant risk to human and natural systems. Although many terrestrial, marine and freshwater populations have shifted their geographical ranges and activities in response to climate change, it is likely that many species will be unable to adapt quickly enough to keep up with the changes.
While climate change itself is a major threat to biodiversity, it is also responsible for driving human activity that is damaging to biodiversity.
The melting of the icecaps, for example, has already encouraged shipping, commercial fishing, mining, and oil and gas development.
WWF has indicated that management actions to protect habitat is essential to ensuring that wildlife is protected and allowed to flourish.
Of course, human populations are not exempt from the impacts of climate change.
Threats to the planet’s biodiversity affect humans, agriculture and the food chain, as well affecting animals. Droughts caused by climate change have resulted in lower crop yields, impacting food security.
As climate change increases, cases of extreme weather will become more frequent, disrupting agricultural processes. This in turn may once again affect wildlife populations, as it becomes necessary to clear habitats to create farmland to deal with demands for food.