World leaders are meeting in Paris this week to talk about how to combat climate change. Here are some animals whose futures are on the line.
Climate change is about the shifting trend lines of our environment, so it’s almost impossible to attribute the endangerment of a species directly to it. But species are experiencing mass die-offs (the world has lost 50% of its wildlife in the past 40 years,according to the World Wildlife Federation) and scientists have warned that climate change is likely playing a key role.
There are a few different types of pikas in the world, including the American pika (above) and its even-more-adorable cousin the Ili pika. Both the Ili and American pika are endangered because of habitat loss — as the temperature rises, they’re forced to move further up their mountain habitats. Pikas are very sensitive to the temperature; American Pikas can die if they’re exposed to a climate as temperate as 78 degrees.
2. Sea lions
Starving and dying sea lion pups have been washing up on California’s shores in unprecedented numbers over the last few years. Warmer waters in the pacific are allowing for major algal blooms that produce a toxin called domoic acid. That toxin is eaten by the fish who eat algae. And when those fish get eaten by sea lions, the sea lions are ingesting what is basically poison. At the same time, the warm waters are pushing sardines, a key supplier of food for sea lions, further north.
The warming patterns of El Niño always cause these problems to some degree, but it’s worse than it’s ever been before and scientists say that climate change is to blame. The Marine Mammal Center, which takes care of sick and stranded pups, says that it is taking care of more sea lions this year than ever before in its 40 years of existence.
3. Australian Flying Foxes
One day, it got so hot in Queensland, Australia that a reported 45,000 flying foxes (a type of bat) fell from the sky. It wasn’t the first such die-off. Thousands of bats havedied in a single day before, too, thanks to the heat. Australia, in particular, has experienced the stress of an increasingly hot climate; since 1960, the number of days where the temperature broke a record has doubled, according to the Climate Council.
There are fewer than 400,000 gray-headed flying foxes remaining in the world.
There are somewhere between 52,000 and 87,000 wild koalas remaining in Australia, according to the Australian Koala Foundation. A range of factors are at play in the koalas’ disappearance, including dog attacks and deforestation. But the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has named the koala as one of the animals most hard-hit by climate change, mainly because increasing amounts of carbon in the air decimates the nutritional value of eucalyptus, the koala’s main source of food. That, combined with increased wildfires and droughts, is a disastrous recipe for the koala.
More than half of this Alf-like species of antelope died off in less than a month, as was detailed in this New York Times story. Scientists told the Times that otherwise-dormant pathogens in the Saiga’s own blood may have become poisonous to it as the weather warmed.
6. Polar Bears
There are between 20,000 and 25,000 polar bears remaining on earth, according to the best guesses from Polar Bears International. But their numbers aren’t really known; there are 19 populations of polar bears in the world, and three populations are definitively in decline while only one population of polar bears is increasing in numbers. Six populations are stable, and the status of nine populations are totally unknown.
What is clear is that the polar bear’s habitat is in sharp decline. Sea ice loss is happening at a faster-than-predicted pace. And polar bears need sea ice to hunt for seals, their main source of food. If our emissions continue at current rates, the U.S. Geological Survey warns that polar bear populations will be “greatly decreased.”
7. Sage Grouses
This strange little bird has become one of the faces of climate change since Congress fought over its inclusion on the endangered species list this year. The sage grouse is able to breed and feed in the steppes of the United States, mainly on sagebrush. But that type of habitat is an increasingly small area of the country. It’s dropped by 56 percent over the last hundred years and, according to the Audubon Society, by 2080 the sage grouse will lose 71 percent of steppe land in which it can breed. Severe drought in particular is causing sagebrush land to dwindle — and those droughts will only become more common as the climate changes.
8. Fur Seals
Both antarctic and northern fur seals are facing population decline thanks to the effects of climate change. Scientists have found that the disappearance of krill, the arctic seals’ main source of food, is also leading to the seals having pups later and at a smaller birth weight.
9. Emperor Penguins
Emperor penguins are another arctic animal — which means that, like seals and polar bears, they’re susceptible to the effects of lost ice cover. An emperor penguin’s entire life cycle is determined by the ice — both in how the birds breed and eat. Loss of ice changes both of these patterns, with what researchers think will be disastrous results; one study predicts that the emperor penguin’s numbers will decline at least 19% by the end of the century, with many colonies experiencing declines of more than 50% of their populations. They also say that 20% of emperor penguin populations could go “quasi-extinct.”
As the globe has warmed, there have also been reports of ice breaking off penguin chicks being “swept into the ocean and drowned,” according to the IUNC.
Literal millions of starfish are dying. They have been washing up dead on west coast beaches, limbs missing or turning to mush thanks to a disease known as Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Scientists believe that warmer water allows the disease to spread and thrive. All of the disease outbreaks have taken place where the water is above average temperature.