The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated today the ninth annual Endangered Species day, a day to recognize America’s most imperiled animals. When given this task, many will likely think of the polar bear, and its increasingly fragile arctic habitat — a phenomenon not-so-subtly connected to climate change.
As HBO host John Oliver so poignantly put it last week, “no climate report is complete without the obligatory photo of a polar bear balancing on a piece of ice.” And he’s right — the disappearing polar bear has indeed become an emotional symbol of how man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are threatening the natural world.
But it’s not just the polar bears that are hurting. Scientists recently warned that one-third of animal species across the world are likely to lose half or more of their habitat range if global temperatures increase by more than 4°C by 2100. And while many of these animals have been migrating with haste to avoid these challenges, the globe is still in the throes of one of the worst rates of species die-offs since the end of the dinosaur age. If global carbon emissions aren’t reduced, those rates only stand to increase.
So in honor of Endangered Species Day, here are five species most at risk from climate change in the U.S. — some of which you may be surprised to see.
Wild Pacific Salmon, including the Sockeye salmon shown above, are extremely important not only as one of the most valuable wild capture fish in the world, but also as supporters of marine ecosystems and symbols of cultural tradition.
However, Pacific Salmon numbers are increasingly threatened — not only by over-fishing and industrialization, but also due to warming oceans. According to a report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the fish are experiencing physiological stress, increased depletion of energy reserves, increased susceptibility and exposure to disease, as well as disruptions to breeding efforts.
CREDIT: National Park Service
Ah, the poor, overlooked grizzly bear, less photogenic than its threatened polar brethren.
But climate change increasingly puts grizzlies in the American West at risk too — so much so that many people are protesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to take them off the Endangered Species List.
The effect of increased heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere on grizzlies has everything to do with their most notable feature — hibernation. Because of the warming temperatures, the bears are denning later in the fall, leading to more hunter-bear interaction and a decline in food sources.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll
It’s natural to think of sea turtles when thinking about animals harmed by global warming. Indeed, six species of sea turtles are already on the Endangered Species List in part due to the detrimental effects of warming.
However, bog turtles — tiny, semi-aquatic turtles native to the eastern United States — are also at risk from climate change. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, rising temperatures are amplifying existing threats to the turtle’s fragile habitat, including “altering hydrological cycles” which causes the turtle’s habitat to flood or dry out.
Scientists at the Endangered Species Coalition have also linked warming climate to the spread of certain invasive species in the bog turtle habitat, which could decrease water levels.
Like nearly all of Hawaii’s endemic birds that have been decimated by accidentally introduced species, the akikiki is no different. But climate change is making the plight worse.
European colonizers accidentally introduced the mosquito to Hawaii in the 1800s, which has thrived in warming climates, spreading avian malaria to the akikiki population. The bird survives now by living in what Mother Nature Network calls the “last safe haven” for the birds — the high-altitude, cool mountains of Kauaʻi, where it’s too cool for mosquitoes to thrive. However, if warming were to impact those mountains, the birds would have to go elsewhere, or succumb to the disease.
Rufa Red Knot
The superman of birds, rufa red knots are truly masters of flight. With wingspans of 20 inches, the birds sometimes fly more than 9,300 miles from south to north every spring, repeating the trip in reverse every autumn. It is one of the longest-distance migrants in the animal kingdom.
Despite its versatility of habitat, though, the Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering whether or not to designate the bird as officially endangered, most recently extending the comment period for the decision on Thursday. Weirdly enough, this is actually because of their habitat versatility in the United States, as climate change affects each and every part of its habitat.
Currently, the FWS says climate change is: harming the arctic tundra ecosystem where the knots breed, increasing the sea level of their coastal habitats, depleting their food resources throughout their travel route, and creating more storm and weather patterns that catch the birds off their guards.