Following a new update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, over 22,000 species of animals are threatened with extinction, an increase of 310 species from the last update. Around 12 percent of animals on the list that are either endangered or critically endangered are threatened because of climate change.
The IUCN’s Red List is considered to be one of the most comprehensive resources on animal conservation status. There are currently over 76,000 species on it.
Many different animals are more at risk due to climate change in the United States. Here is a sample of the over 1,400 endangered species on the Red List that are currently threatened by climate change worldwide.
The Knysna seahorse is extremely vulnerable to increases in water temperatures; in 1991, over 3,000 were found dead after heavy rainfall resulted in higher than normal temperatures. Increased flooding also puts the seahorses at risk. In 2003, the number of sea horses declined by about 85 percent, but there is anecdotal evidence that some populations are increasing.
The Kaputar Pink Slug
The Kaputar pink slug is only found on a specific mountain in Australia. Climate change is a major threat to it because increased temperatures will further restrict the slugs’ already small sub-alpine habitat. Having even a small increase in temperature could lead to a 55 percent habitat reduction.
Wombats and Wallabies
Several of Australia’s marsupials are at threatened by climate change. The Northern Hairy-Nose wombat’s small population size makes random changes in climate or severe weather events a threat to them. Increased droughts can also hurt the wombats, since they lead to competition with domesticated animals for food. Like the wombat, the Banded Hare wallaby faces threats from droughts; two reintroduction attempts failed due to droughts. In general, a rise in extreme weather events could harm the population, as they are located in a single bay in western Australia.
Whooping cranes and Ibises
Both whooping cranes and several types of ibis are being threatened by climate change. Droughts have been linked to decreased production in nesting areas. A drought in 2009, which hurt the availability of several key food items for the crane, caused mortality rates to double. Unusually dry weather may lead to poor breeding success for the Asian Crested Ibis, which only has about 500 birds in the wild. The Giant Ibis, which was about 345 individuals left in the wild, also faces threats from climate change — a drought in 2009 lowered breeding success by 50 percent.
Mosquitoes carrying avian malaria are a major threat to the Akikiki. While they cannot currently survive in the high elevations where Akikikis live, scientists are worried that rising temperatures could allow mosquitoes to thrive in Akikiki habitat and pass on avian malaria.
Declines in African penguin populations have been connected to fluctuations in water temperature that cause food shortages, and increased storms negatively impact on breeding grounds. African penguins are very sensitive to heat stress, which can lead to nest abandonment and lower breeding numbers. Meanwhile, Galapagos penguins are extremely sensitive to the effects of El Niño, which leads to a shortage in the penguins’ food supply, higher rates of disease and an unbalanced sex ratio. The Galapagos penguins are still 48 percent under their pre-1982 El Niño levels. A study in January suggested that the rate of El Niños could increase thanks to climate change.
Sea Otters, Seals and Sea Lions
Sea otters, as well as several seal and sea lion species, are under threat due to climate change. Changes to ocean temperature through events such as El Niño cause food shortages, leading to sea otter malnutrition and starvation, as well as low breeding. The decline of traditional killer whale prey, like harp seals which has been linked to climate change, has caused killer whales to begin consuming sea otters. The Galapagos fur seal is threatened by extreme weather such as El Niño, while changes in ocean currents due to increased temperatures will also negatively impact them. While Caspian seals are threatened by human development and hunting, rising temperatures have shrunk the amount of ice cover where breeding can occur. El Niño, which has been linked to mass die-offs and low breeding numbers, also hurts the Galapagos Sea Lion.
Beyond species being directly hurt by climate change, the Red List included several recognizable species that are threatened by human appetites, including bluefin tuna, pufferfish, and the American eel. The bluefin tuna’s population has dropped by about 33 percent in the last two decades thanks to high demand for it in sushi and sashimi. The pufferfish, which is also overfished for food, has seen a 99 percent population decline in the last four decades, while the American eel faces poaching threats and low numbers because of its popularity as a food item.