Musk oxen must fend off more grizzly bears due to climate change. Photo credit: Steve Zack/Wildlife Conservation Society.
Whether because or spite of once being unknowingly served some incredibly un-tasty (chewy, gamy) musk ox meat at a homestead in northern Alaska, I've always felt quite fond of the big, furry, social beasts. Sure, they're a bit funny looking, but have you seen their babies? But while the plight of purportedly more charismatic (read: cute) animals gets all the ink, the threats to a species that has survived since the Pleistocene -- the woolly mammoth era -- have been woefully neglected. Until now.This week, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) released a list of "'unsung' species under stress from climate change," from musk oxen in the Arctic to amphibians in Peru. "The image of a forlorn-looking polar bear on a tiny ice floe has become the public's image of climate change in nature, but the impact reaches species in nearly every habitat in the world's wild places," said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, the society's president and CEO. "Our own researchers are observing direct impacts on a wide range of species across the world."
The WCS report, "Species Feeling the Heat: Connecting Deforestation and Climate Change," profiles the threats facing more than a dozen animal species and groups, including:
- White-lipped peccaries - Found in Central and South America, these pig relatives rely on shallow ponds for hydration during the dry season, water sources that are being diminished by climate change.
- Musk oxen - As the warming climate rapidly alters these Arctic residents' habitat, it is also allowing more predatory grizzly bears to move northward into their tundra home.
- Bicknell's thrushes - An average temperature increase of just 1 degree Celsius would cut these songbirds' mountaintop breeding habitat in eastern North America in half.
- Numerous amphibian species - Amphibians living high in the Peruvian Andes are among those in danger of being "pushed off" their mountaintop habitats in response to increasing temperatures.
- Lemmings - These small rodents, an important part of the Arctic food chain, are losing the deep snow cover they need to stay warm and reproduce safely in winter.
- Hawksbill turtles - These Caribbean sea turtles produce more female hatchlings in warmer weather, meaning rising temperatures could dangerously skew gender ratios among the population.
- Buff-breasted sandpipers - These Arctic-breeding birds are nesting more than 10 days earlier than they did 25 years ago, a change that could affect their migratory patterns in as-yet-unknown ways.
- Irrawaddy dolphins - These freshwater-dependent cetaceans are threatened by changes in freshwater flow and salinity levels in estuaries in Bangladesh and other places expected to experience severe climate change impacts.
"The problems of climate change and biodiversity loss are global, but the solutions to them must begin at the local level," Sanderson wrote in Foreign Affairs. "Conservation is about saving wildlife and wild places in specific locales. Small programs can become large building blocks if the global community stands ready to encourage them." Via: Wildlife Conservation Society
More about endangered species:
Which 10 Countries Have the Most Endangered Species?
'100 Heartbeats': Endangered Species Timebomb
Meet the Five Almost-Endangered Species of 2009
Obama Protecting Fewer Endangered Species than Bush
7 Weird Endangered Species Only a Mother Could Love
6 Ways to See Endangered Species Without Endangering Them More