Climate change is affecting sea turtles in an unusual way: sex. The sex of hatchlings, that is.
According to a study by Florida State University, rising global temperatures are causing a gender imbalance. Scientists researched Brazilian loggerhead turtles and found that the warmer temperatures cause higher incubating temperatures, which leads to more female hatchlings.
Optimal hatching temperatures are between 75.2 to 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit, but temperatures below 85.1 degrees results in more male turtles and temperatures above yield more females.
“We’re concerned we’re going to have a feminization of marine turtles. This study came from the need to understand the current sex ratio being produced at loggerhead nesting grounds to establish baseline parameters as climate change progresses and to identify beaches that produce a higher proportion of males.”
Researchers believe projected increases in temperature will cause gender imbalance in marine turtle populations to worsen. Fuente and her team will move forward trying to identify the best practices to protect the turtles. They will coordinate with government officials and conservationists in Brazil to create conservation plans, working to make sure this imbalance does not negatively impact the species.
Imagine our world without up to 656,000 square miles of forest – an area than twice the size of Texas. Our world would look a lot different.
According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report released in April, this could be the case by 2030. The report identified 11 regions around the world with the greatest expected loss of forest over the next 15 years.
These forests are home to countless animals, including rare and endangered species, and such habitat loss would be detrimental to them. And even worse, it could all happen in as little as 15 years from now unless we address major forest threats like mining, illegal logging, agriculture and road construction.
Here are the 11 forests identified in the WWF report:
The Amazon jungle is the world’s largest forest, but it’s also projected to have the greatest habitat loss. Over a quarter of the forest will be gone if current trends persist, especially today’s cattle ranching and agriculture in the region.
2. Atlantic Forest/Gran Chaco
The Atlantic forest spans parts of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina and is one of the richest rainforests in the world, with more biodiversity per acre than the Amazon. But 75% of the Brazilian population lives there, causing deforestation in both the Atlantic forest and the neighboring dry forest Gran Chaco.
In 2030, there could be as little as 33% of the lowland Borneo rainforest left. Weak government and instability only exacerbate deforestation as more and more people create palm oil plantations in the region.
The Cerrado is a high plateau region in Brazil that isn’t as well-known as the Amazon but is just as threatened. Cattle ranching and converting forest to soy plantations are the major causes of deforestation.
Running along South America’s northwestern Pacific coast, these forests face deforestation from roads, power lines, mining and oil exploration. Most damage has occurred in the Ecuadorian Choco, but the regions in Panama and Colombia are also in jeopardy.
6. Congo Basin
The Congo Basin is one of the world’s most important wilderness regions, containing 20% of the planet’s tropical forests and the most biodiversity in Africa. These forests are especially threatened because the human population is expected to double by 2030.
7. Eastern Africa
This region has the miombo woodlands and coastal and mountain forests, all of which are threatened. The forests are illegally logged, over-harvested for timber and fuel wood or converted to livestock and cash crops. Sadly, the coastal forests of Tanzania and Kenya are already down to 10% of their original area.
8. Eastern Australia
Although there have been recent reductions in deforestation in the states of Queensland and New South Wales, weak legislation raises concerns about forest loss. Conversion of forest land to pastures for livestock is the main cause of deforestation, but key species are affected, including koalas, possums, gliders and birds.
9. Greater Mekong
Because of a booming economy, the region’s forest land is being converted for sugar, rice, rubber and biofuels. But as more and more of the forests are converted for economic development, the area’s animals become increasingly threatened and the Greater Mekong forests are rich in species. For instance, in 2011 alone, 126 new species were discovered there, including fish, snakes, frogs and bats.
10. New Guinea
New Guinea and neighboring islands are home to the largest remaining regions of tropical forests in the Asia-Pacific area and home to more than 6% of the world’s species. But with agriculture on the rise, the forests and their inhabitants are in jeopardy.
Indonesia’s palm oil production is now centered in Sumatra, and particularly the Riau province, causing deforestation in the area. It even affects protected forests and national parks, threatening the region’s rhinos, tigers, orangutans, and other wildlife
What Can We Do?
WWF believes that stopping deforestation now is more strategic and cost-effective than dealing with the consequences later. Deforestation accounts for around 15% of global carbon emissions – more than the total emissions from every single the motor vehicles, airplanes and ships in the world. If we don’t address this issue and take action, we could lose over 600,000 square miles of our planet’s forests. With that, we would lose the benefits those forests provide, including jobs, clean water and wood, and we would lose precious habitat for much of the world’s wildlife and many endangered species.
Puffin and turtle dove populations have dropped so drastically that they now face the same threat of extinction as the African elephant and lion.
For the first time, Atlantic puffins and European turtle doves have been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list. In total, four UK bird species were added, doubling the number of commonly-seen bird species with “vulnerable” statuses. Furthermore, 14 UK species are now considered “near threatened.”
“Today’s announcement means that the global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores. The number of species facing extinction has always been highest in the tropics, particularly on small islands. But now the crisis is beginning to exact an increasingly heavy toll on temperate regions too, such as Europe. The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”
Climate change, gill net fishing, invasive predators and high breeding failures are the major factors in the puffin’s population decline. Atlantic puffin numbers are suffering in Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which constitutes 80% of the European population. Numbers are also declining in Fair Isle and Shetland, UK.
The turtle dove has also suffered drastic declines across Europe, with more than a 30% decline in the last 16 years. More than 9 out of every 10 birds have been lost since the 1970s. Potential causes include hunting while migrating, shifts in land-use patterns and climate change. RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge says:
“We are researching a number of different reasons why, including changes in agricultural practice across Europe, which means a struggle to find food and nesting sites…We do know there is strong illegal hunting of turtle dove around the Mediterranean.”
What is one of the baleen whale’s favorite food? Krill. But as carbon dioxide levels rise, it creates a big problem for these tiny crustaceans.
Studies at the Australian Antarctic Division agency found that krill eggs do not hatch when exposed to higher CO2 levels. In fact, Antarctic Division biologist So Kawaguchi believes there will be a 20-70% decline in Antarctic krill populations by the year 2100 and a complete extinction by 2300. Dr. Kawaguchi says:
“Higher levels of carbon dioxide in the water mean greater levels of ocean acidification. This interrupts the physiology of krill. It stops the eggs hatching, or the larvae developing.”
Although krill are tiny creatures, they are one of the most abundant species on earth and have a massive role in the marine ecosystem. They sit at the bottom of the ocean food chain and serve as sustenance for (or sustenance for the prey of) several animals such as fish, squid, sea birds, seals and whales. If krill die off – or populations diminish significantly – it will have a serious, negative impact on baleen whales and much of the ocean’s ecosystem.
It’s not too late, however, as Kawaguchi suggests a moratorium on fishing in the region until the agency can dive deeper into the effects ocean acidification has on krill.
While several species will struggle to survive climate change, a few animals may benefit from the rising temperatures. Specifically, the moose and snowshoe hares in the Arctic regions would benefit from the increased availability of shrubs and similar foods.
A new study looked at these two animals and how climate change may be supporting the growth of their populations. The team found that with warming temperatures came the growth of more shrubs and with more shrubs came more moose and hares.
However, an increase in moose and snowshoe hares has its impacts on the area’s ecosystem and wildlife management. For example, it causes predators, like various birds of prey and the lynx, to become more frequent visitors. In addition, tundra species that prefer open habitats may decline as their habitat shrinks and they are out-competed by moose and hares.
Over the next 100 years, our planet’s tropical amphibians may go extinct.
A new study found that in the last 30-40 years, 200 frog species have gone extinct around the world and that hundreds more may disappear in the next century. Habitat loss and destruction, climate change and deadly diseases are the factors that put these amphibians at risk.
John Alroy, associate professor in biological sciences at the Macquarie University in Australia authored the study. To estimate the number of extinct species, he looked at samples from museums of amphibians and reptiles in nine different regions and compared them to published observations.
Some of the worst rates of extinction were in Latin America, possibly due to the chytrid fungus. Alroy says:
“There’s pretty good agreement that the biggest threat for amphibians is the [chytrid] (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) fungus. However, I think habitat destruction might have a bigger role than people realize — and future climate change is going to have huge and unpredictable consequences.”
While tropical amphibians face high extinction rates, those in the Southeast United States do not. In addition, reptiles in all regions faced low extinction rates except in a few areas like Madagascar.
There isn’t a poaching crisis for these big cats, unlike their feline fellows in Africa. But climate change is a real threat.
Snow leopards live in rocky mountain ranges in Central Asia and this high-altitude habitat is very, very vulnerable to rising temperatures. If action is not taken, more than one third of the snow leopards’ habitat will become unsuitable to them.
The snow leopard population has decreased by 20% in the past 16 years, with just 4,000 left in the wild. The big cats already face threats from human conflict and climate change only exacerbates this decline.
As more habitat becomes available, humans can expand and encroach on the mountains, which results in a smaller hunting range for the leopards. Conservationists are also concerned that climate change will result in more killing of snow leopards, to prevent or retaliate against any conflict with livestock.
Furthermore, these mountains not only provide a home for snow leopards, but they also provides water for more than 330 million of people. Climate change could have serious impacts on the water flow from the mountains, threatening the livelihoods of all those people depending on it.
WWF Global Snow Leopard Leader, and coordinator of WWF’s first ever global strategy to conserve the species, Rishi Kumar Sharma says:
“Urgent action is needed to curb climate change and prevent further degradation of snow leopard habitat, otherwise the ‘ghost of the mountains’ could vanish, along with critical water supplies for hundreds of millions of people.”
Polar bears are spending more time on land than ever before. To be exact, bears around the Chuchki Sea are spending a month longer on land during the summer, according to a new study.
Research wildlife biologist with the Alaska Science Center of the U.S. Geological Survey and lead author Karyn Rode says:
“They are spending approximately 30 more days on land, which is pretty substantial in the summer. Where they come on land during the summer is changing because of the ice conditions…They’re either sitting, laying or standing. They aren’t moving around very much to forage,” she said. “When we look at this activity sensor, it’s incredibly low.”
The researchers analyzed data from radio collars on 103 female polar bears between 1986-1996 and compared them to data from 47 bears in 2008-2013. They found that bears now spend a month longer on land, that almost twice as many bears spend their summers on land and that more than 90% of time on land is spent resting.
So far, this has not affected the bears’ nutrition, but there is debate about whether polar bears can sustain themselves on a land-based diet. As the summer sea ice continues to melt, polar bears will likely spend more and more time onshore and, unfortunately, recent studies show that polar bears’ cannot sustain themselves during long periods of famine. In addition, more time onshore will increase the chance of conflict with humans.
“The results of our study are consistent with studies in other regions where polar bears have experienced substantial sea ice loss. As sea ice loss occurs, polar bears increasingly use land habitats where they have minimal to no access to their marine mammal prey and are increasingly likely to interact with humans.”
Nearly half of all life under the sea has disappeared in the past 50 years.
A new study by the World Wildlife Fund and researchers at the Zoological Society of London found that global populations of marine species have declined by 49% since 1970 due to pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and climate change.
Researchers were able to approximate this drastic decline using data that was collected from 2,337 individual sources, including population estimates from scientific studies and databases.
The study also found that some fish species people rely on for food – like tuna, bonito and mackerel – has declined by as much as 74%. Shark finning and industrial fishing have wiped out shark and ray populations to the point where one in four species are now threatened by extinction. And the number of sea cucumbers, a luxury food in Asia, have dropped by 98% in the Galápagos and by 94% in the Egyptian Red Sea.
Furthermore, industrial pollution and plastic contamination have destroyed marine habitats and caused the death of endangered sea turtles and other wildlife. Fossil fuels that accelerate the acidifcation of the oceans has led to the degradation of coral reefs, which support 25% of marine species on top of 400 million people. The world’s coral reefs will disappear if ocean temperatures continue rising at the current rate.
The report’s findings include a lot of bad news, but there is a silver lining. The world’s leaders and nations can use this information to turn things around by halting illegal fishing, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and protecting critical marine habitats like the remaining coral reefs. Director general of WWF International Marco Lambertini said in a statement:
“The ocean is a renewable resource that can provide for all future generations if the pressures are dealt with effectively. If we live within sustainable limits, the ocean will contribute to food security, livelihoods, economies and our natural systems.”
As the planet warms, cold-blooded animals will have trouble adjusting. According to a study by two biologists, cold-blooded animals, which cannot regulate their internal temperatures, will struggle with climate change.
The biologists, Alex R. Gunderson and Jonathon H. Stillman from the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, analyzed 230 cold-blooded species from 112 published studies on plasticity – or the ability of animals to modify their thermal tolerance when they experience new environmental temperatures. They found that cold-blooded animals have an particularly tough time adjusting and that on average most aren’t flexible to warming climate changes.
“Overall, we found that even though all of the animals have some plasticity, they all have relatively low levels of plasticity. As environmental temperatures rise due to global warming, the animals will get closer and closer to their thermal limits, and plasticity won’t do much to help them.”
Gunderson and Stillman discovered that the plasticity of animals differs based on their habitat. So cold-blooded species like lizards and insects have less plasticity than fish and crustaceans, and thus will have a more difficult time surviving in the changing climate. Gunderson explains:
“The difference between terrestrial and aquatic animals is that the aquatic ones have a higher capacity to adjust, but it is still relatively low. Ideally, if temperatures went up three degrees, the animals’ tolerance would go up three degrees as well. But that’s not what we see.”
The study’s analysis suggests that certain animals – such as lizards, insects and snakes – can’t depend on plasticity. Rather, they will have to rely on behavior modifications, like moving to greater altitudes or more shaded habitats. But unfortunately, not all animals live in regions where such behavioral adaptations are feasible and in those cases, the species will have to evolve higher tolerance for the heat in order to survive.