Melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, and declining forests cover are some of the consequences resulting from the ongoing human-induced activities that are meddling with the balance of the ecosystem. These development projects have led to a major biodiversity loss and disrupted the wildlife habitat and posed a serious risk to many wildlife species across the planet. The topic of extinction has been a major discussion point in the climate action agendas for the past decade and there has been an unfortunate loss of several species over the past decade or so. In the present scenario, as reported by the WWF many wildlife species such as tigers, Arctic polar bears, and marine turtles population are on the endangered list.
Climate change: a rising threat to wildlife species
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has released a Red List of Threatened Species which is a crucial resource to understand the level of severity the ecosystem is experiencing. The comprehensive data provides information about the range, population size habitat and ecology, threats and conservation to formulate efficient policies to conserve the wildlife ecosystem.
As per the released data about 1,333 mammal species, 1445 birds and 1839 species of reptiles are under the threat of getting extinct and require immediate attention and conservation strategies. The WWF highlights that the global warming in the past century has resulted in significant ecological changes and alterations such as “changes in growing seasons, species ranges, and patterns of seasonal breeding”.
Scientists have studied evolution and come to a conclusion that “extinctions are a normal part of evolution” and they happen naturally and periodically over a period of time. This natural phenomenon of several species going extinct every few thousand years is referred to as mass extinction. There’s a natural timing and frequency of these extinctions. 10% of species are lost every million years, 30% every 10 million years; and 65% every 100 million years, scientists reported. Evidently, several species have gone extinct in the past decade or a century due to climate change and other negative impacts due to human interference. This is an alarming situation as the rate of extinction is way higher than the usual scientific evolution study reveals.
Species evolving to adapt to climate change
The theory of evolution by Charles Darwin mentions ‘survival of the fittest’ which means that the organisms which have adapted and adjusted best to the changing environment are the most successful in surviving and reproducing.
The rising global temperature has resulted in more frequent climate disasters such as droughts, tsunamis, and cyclones. These changes in the environment have become a challenge for the wildlife but many species have evolved to adapt to these unfamiliar changes.
Over the past years, scientists have closely monitored and studied several species that have achieved physical transformations to adapt to climate change. These changes in the physical attributes are defined as shape-shifting. To bear with the extreme heat warm-blooded animals such as birds and mammals have transformed physically such as getting larger legs, tails and beaks to improve their ability to regulate body temperature. These Shape shifting may not look much significant but for animals, these changes can be a difference between survival and extinction.
According to a study published in the Cell Press journal, several bird species such as the North American dark-eyed junco, a songbird, and several species of Australian parrots show increases in their beak size. Birds use their beaks to release body heat and lower their temperature hence the larger beak is better for cooling amidst the rising global temperature. The researcher examined mammals and revealed an evident increase in the size across several species. Wood mice with longer tails and masked shrews with larger legs are part of this shape-shifting evolution trend. It has been highlighted that the species having larger limbs and beaks have adapted to the warm climatic conditions. Endothermic species with long tails, beaks and limbs help mammals to keep their body temperature in control as larger surface area cools quicker, the study adds.
Polar bears are at the highest risk of extinction due to global warming but recently researchers in the arctic region have reported some positive news. The researchers found that an isolated population of polar bears in Greenland has adapted to survive in challenging conditions. The Polar bears depend on the ice platform to hunt fish and seals to survive and the decline in the ice sheets has allowed bears to make a clever adaptation. The population of several hundred bears on Greenland’s southeast coast on the Denmark Strait has survived with only the ice formed from frozen seawater.
Scientists from all over the world have been voicing out their concerns citing the massive loss of biodiversity in recent years. There is a need to adequately address the climate crisis the target of achieving net-zero is very crucial. In terms of habitat transformation deforestation in the tropics must be zero, and stringent policies and regulations by policymakers must be put in action in order to conserve biodiversity from this catastrophe.