Most nature lovers are familiar with the concept of a threatened species, or organisms that are in danger due to habitat loss, poaching, disease, or environmental factors. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) compiles a Red List of Threatened Species in order to identify these plants and animals so that steps can be taken to aid in their recovery. A recent paper published in PLOS ONE involving more than a hundred scientists over a period of five years found that climate change has caused many of the world’s creatures to become imperiled. A staggering 83% of birds, 70% of corals, and 66% of amphibians were identified as highly vulnerable.

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The impacts of global warming were not considered as contributing factors to the Red List, making it difficult for them to receive conservation attention. The scientists were shocked by their findings as they were not expecting to discover that so many areas not previously of concern were at risk from climate change.

“Clearly, if we simply carry on conservation as usual, without taking climate change into account, we’ll fail to help many of the species and areas that need it most.” said Wendy Foden, lead author of the study.

Taking global warming into account, biologists can find “weak points” in areas with certain biological characteristics. Already, 9% of birds, 9% of corals, and 15% of all amphibians are regarded as highly threatened with extinction due to logging, agricultural development, and pathogens. By throwing climate change into the mix, their survival becomes increasingly unstable. The study was one of the first on a world-wide scale to map vulnerability for certain species groups, identifying hot-spots where more attention should be given. The Amazon, for example, contains the highest concentrations of bird and amphibian life, and the Coral Triangle in the Indo-West Pacific supports a wide diversity of marine organisms.

The identification of species at risk have already been helping to aid in conservation in areas such as the Albertine rift in Central and East Africa. Researchers were able to mark 33 plants vital for human use, 19 species of fish and 24 mammals used for food. As the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions intensifies, humans are beginning to more clearly understand the links between their actions and the well being of entire ecosystems.



Images via Wikicommons users Brocken Inaglory and Michael Spencer.