Climate change may be threatening much more animal species than previously believed, a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change reports.
Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society found that over 700 of the world’s threatened and endangered species are affected by climate change. That is a large jump from past estimates, which assumed that only seven percent of mammals and four percent of birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) “Red List” are being harmed by global warming.
Researchers analyzed 130 previous studies on the subject. The research showed that nearly half of the world’s threatened and endangered mammals and nearly a quarter of birds are already being affected by shifts in climate.
While most climate change studies look at the future, this new analysis is important because it reveals that the effects of global warming are already happening.
“We did the study because no one had really pulled together the evidence of how much climate change has impacted species to date,” study co-author James Watson, director of the Science and Research Initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society, told Live Science. “We know that the last 50 years have been warmer than the 50 years before that and that there’s already been a 1-degree [Celsius] global warming event, but no one really talks about it.”
After the researchers combined all the studies into one analysis, they were able to see how much change has already occurred. This then allowed them to look at different trends across numerous species. For instance, the most threatened animals live in areas that have already warmed dramatically or have very specific survival requirements.
While many groups are threatened, primates are at extreme risk because weather events both harm their tropical homes and weaken their food supply. Though some animals can adapt by moving around, most species are stuck where they are.
Birds, for example, can freely migrate around mountaintops. However, other animals do not have that ability. This makes them much more vulnerable to shifts in weather. These risks are ever greater for deep sea ecosystems because they are hit particularly hard by shifting temperatures.
Though the study covers 700 species, the team believes, even more, are at risk. Only birds and mammals were covered in the research, and those groups only make up a small portion of all animals on Earth. In particular, researchers are curious to see how cold-blooded creatures are affected by changing temperatures as well as how such shifts affect plants.
The team hopes these new findings will spur government officials to develop policies to combat the problem of climate change. The time for action is now, say the researchers.
“Our results clearly show that the impact of climate change on mammals and birds to date is currently greatly under-estimated and reported upon,” added Watson, in a statement. “We need to greatly improve assessments of the impacts of climate change on species right now, we need to communicate this to a wider public and we need to ensure key decisions makers know that something significant needs to happen now to stop species going extinct.”