How climate change increases the risk of species extinction

‘Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to be a major cause of species extinctions in the next 100 years’Cahill et al. (2013)

The word anthropogenic refers to the geological epoch which we are currently in, for the last 12,000 years of human history we have lived through the Holocene epoch which signified our balance with nature and human life on Earth. When exactly the anthropogenic epoch started is still debated but what is certain is that the increase in human population and use of fossil fuels has created an era of uncertain instability.

This instability has resulted in many foreseen and unforeseen consequences, one of which is the decline of certain marine, animal and plant species. A famous report released by the UN in 2019 stated that over 1 million species are at risk of extinction which was supported by hundreds of renowned scientists. The different factors which decrease certain species population can be both isolated incidents and connected through the negative consequences of human accelerated climate change. Outlined below are some the ways humans are threatening many different organisms with extinction.

Deforestation

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The main causes of deforestation is often to make room for cattle farms, mining or illegal deforestation whereby people harvest exotic timbers for profit.

How deforestation decreases species populations is somewhat simple to understand. Forests are cut down leading to the loss of certain foods and shelter which animals rely on to survive. With the loss of habitats these animals either migrate or die due to their environment no longer being able to sustain them. Some struggle to adapt quick enough to a rapidly changing environment.

Deforestation also decreases the amount of biodiversity within that area, biodiversity is integral for wildlife to survive. With so many interconnected systems of plants, insects and mammals, without certain organisms able to survive others will die as a result.

Global warming

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With temperatures rising each year due to the amount of carbon emissions in our atmosphere, many different species are having to adapt to rising temperatures. However, evolution is a slow process and many species cannot keep up with the rapid advances in temperature.

Rising temperatures has also affected certain species in unpredictable ways. Since the 1990s rising temperatures has caused many coral reefs to die, turning white as a result. This coral bleaching means that they can no longer support local marine life which relied on these areas for sustainable survival.

This is troubling as we are already seeing the affects of species extinction in relation to current temperatures, with predicted temperatures being a lot more severe, this issue can only spiral if we continue on our current trajectory.

Overfishing

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One of the greatest threats to marine life is fishing, more specifically overfishing and illegal fishing. Not only do these hauls decrease populations massively, they disrupt other marine life dependable on those organisms to survive. Also, the practice of bottom trawling and the carbon emissions used to power these massive freighters damage the environment in numerous ways.

The integration of Marine Protected Areas (MPA) is not a quick fix to all problems involving marine life, especially when taking into account the livelihoods of local communities that rely on fishing as a main source of sustainability. However, with policies such as MPAs and sustainable fishing practices we can begin to repair the damage that has been done to marine life before it’s irreversible.

Monocrop agriculture

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The demand for multi-purpose crops such as soy or palm oil is profitable but involves a questionable practice known as monocropping agriculture. This practice being so profitable makes it very popular but can damage the environment in numerous ways.

Generally, monocrop agriculture causes soil degradation so farmers need to use fertilizer to sustain the nutrients in the soil. This can lead to pollution and desertification. As seen by examples in Brazil with soy and in Indonesia with palm oil plantations, monocrop agriculture can lead to mass deforestation and reduce biodiversity due to large areas of land only containing one species of crop. This causes certain species to desert areas or struggle for survival in what was once an abundance of biodiverse wild landscape.

Illegal wildlife trade

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How the illegal wildlife trade threatens species extinction is somewhat obvious, through the killing and trading of specific animals for ivory or exotic pelts reduces their numbers the more the demand for these materials increase. According the a report conducted by Interpol, the illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth approximately $20 billion, demonstrating the scale of the issue.

Water pollution

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Water pollutants is another way many species are being threatened with extinction. Whether it involves dumping toxic waste into the ocean or the amount of plastic that is being found in our oceans, these destructive actions are seriously threatening other species as well as the characteristics of the world around us.

The dumping of toxic waste is often a practice used by countries or large corporations as a cheaper method of disposing of their waste. Not only does this practice pollute waterways in developing countries but it can also affect local communities which live nearby.

Plastic pollution in our oceans is now well-known and everywhere we look. Examples like the great garbage patch in the Pacific ocean or the increase in plastic waste recently due to people wearing disposable masks during the current pandemic.

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The characteristics of a biodiverse ecosystem

Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you’ll find in one area—the variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each of these species and organisms work together in ecosystems, like an intricate web, to maintain balance and support life. Biodiversity supports everything in nature that we need to survive: food, clean water, medicine, and shelter‘ – http://www.worldwildlife.org

Illegal deforestation and the consequences of global warming continue to destroy our planet, making biodiversity harder to find on Earth. The natural world is interconnected through millions of complex relationships which depend upon lots of different species. With less biodiverse landscapes these relationships become unstable, creating mass extinction events such as the one we are currently witnessing. However, rewilding projects strive to amend this issue by recreating natural and biodiverse landscapes to help stabilise what we have destroyed. Below I have outlined some of the characteristics that create a biodiverse landscape.

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Genetic diversity
This focuses on the variety of different genetic material within a species population. Greater genetic diversity means a population will have an easier time adapting to environmental issues. This characteristic, like others, being essential for endangered species and conservation efforts. Although, some argue that due to the unpredictable climate, species cannot adapt fast enough to keep up with the environmental pressures.

Ecosystem diversity This is essentially the different biomes across the planet which hold specific climates with species directly related to that climate. For example, a tropical climate might hold more insects and exotic plants compared to a colder climate such as Antarctica.


Species diversity
This is the variety of different species found in the area which is being researched or maintained. This can range from a species of bird to a certain species of tree. Establishing a balance is key to maintaining a biodiverse landscape, without this the ecosystem becomes unstable. For example, palm oil plantations in Indonesia are detrimental to the local ecosystem as they only consist of one species of tree which creates an imbalance of species diversity.

Functional diversity
Can be summarised as the biological and chemical processes needed for the survival of species and ecosystems. For example, the nitrogen cycle or the carbon cycle.

Some of the most biodiverse places on Earth will share all these characteristics to varying degree. Unfortunately, due to the state of the natural world caused by human behaviour over the last two centuries these rich natural environments are declining at unprecedented rates. Therefore, It is important we understand what is meant by biodiversity and why it is needed if we are to aim at repairing the natural world.

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Drones used to repopulate forests

A recent strategy to repopulate forests uses drones to plant seeds at a safer and faster way than humans can. In different parts of the world, organisations are using drones to restore forests damaged by wildfires and other consequences of climate change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiOPdJCukNg&ab_channel=Reuters

This short video summaries what is taking place in the United States and the process which takes place. This company’s website gives a more detailed look into how they operate.

In the UK, organisations are using drone planting techniques in order to solve the issue of Ash dieback. Ash dieback is common in most parts of Europe and is a fungal disease which often spreads from tree to tree. Therefore, the seed spreading drone program aims to help repopulate forests with healthier trees.

One UK tech company, Dendra, is aiming to plant 500 billion trees by 2060. This idea could help restore forests which are being lost to deforestation due to organisations profiteering from the newly cleared land, for example the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

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In Myanmar people are tweaking the technology to plant mangrove trees along coastal areas and places hard to reach on foot. This new innovative design looks promising as not only are the drones used to plant trees at much higher rates and in places hard to reach, they are also used to help scan sections of woodland and provide information on specific areas of forests.

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Deforestation: causes, impacts and solutions

‘In 2015, an estimated 50 percent of the planet’s wild forests had gone. And the destruction of forests has continued since. If the trend is not stopped, we will only have 10 percent of the world’s original forests left by 2030’ ­www.theworldcounts.com

A private corporation or government may want to deforest an area for agriculture, grazing or urban development. It is mostly a concern with countries in tropical regions like Brazil or Indonesia where rainforests rich in biodiversity are being lost at a rapid rate. Before looking at the causes of deforestation, it is important to distinguish between the agents and the causes:


‘The agents of deforestation are those slash and burn farmers, commercial farmers, ranchers, loggers, firewood collectors, infra-structure developers and others who are cutting down the forests. Causes of deforestation are the forces that motivate the agents to clear the forests’Deforestation: Causes, Effects and Control Strategies

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To go in to detail about each cause would make this post several pages long, therefore I will provide a list of direct causes which can be looked at by following the link provided.


Some of the direct causes of deforestation (as referenced on page 7 in the article) are:

  • Expansion of farm land
  • Timber plantations
  • Logging
  • Overgrazing
  • Fires
  • Mining
  • Urbanisation
  • Air pollution
  • War
  • Tourism

In relation to the direct causes, this demonstrates that deforestation can be caused for various reasons in many different ways. However, the impacts this can have on local communities and internationally is mostly concerning.

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The impact of deforestation increases global warming which has a collateral impact on the Earth and all its inhabitants.


‘Forests have a big influence on rainfall patterns, water and soil quality and flood prevention too. Millions of people rely directly on forests as their home or for making a living. But the risks from deforestation go even wider. Trees absorb and store carbon dioxide. If forests are cleared, or even disturbed, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Forest loss and damage is the cause of around 10% of global warming’WWF

Not to mention the vast amount of habitat and species loss to many plant and animals which are exclusive to certain rainforests and ecosystems which are then destroyed.


Therefore, when looking into solutions to deforestation there are many different approaches corporations or nations can adopt. Greenpeace offer an array of different solutions such as:

⦁ Corporations operating with ‘zero deforestation’ policies

⦁ Supporting Indigenous communities

⦁ Promoting sustainable lifestyle

⦁ Changing the politics

In summary, we must remember that when thinking about ways to solve deforestation it will often entail a multilateral solution. As it has already been established that:


‘Rarely is there a single direct cause for deforestation. Most often, multiple processes work simultaneously or sequentially to cause deforestation’www.earthobservatory.nasa.gov


Therefore, it is evident that there needs to be more cooperation with nations like Indonesia or Brazil, as they have some of the largest rainforests, to prevent the increase rate of illegal deforestation and rapid decline in forest and species loss.

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Sustainable forest management and adaptation to climate change

Sustainable forest management can be defined as ‘outcomes that are socially just, ecologically sound and economically viable – the three pillars of sustainability‘. Each pillar is needed in order for a forests to thrive, if one of these pillars is missing a forest cannot be protected.

Depending on the type of forest that is being managed, such as a rainforest or a boreal forest, the management of that forest will vary. Management needs to be specific to the type of ecosystem that the forest resides, tailor to the legal framework and socio-cultural aspects depending on what nation the forest is found in. Although, there are objective requirements that all forests should include.

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Climate change can present many uncertainties when managing forests, therefore a forest should be adapting to promote resilience against the threat of droughts, damage from pests, diseases and wild fire. One way this can be achieved is by practicing silviculture, which consists of controlling the structure and dynamics of a forest. In managing a forest one needs to take an adaptive approach as the climate is constantly changing. Additionally, aside from climate change other influences may include timber prices, land use change and recreational use. There are often extreme conditions one may have to plan for as well, such as extreme drought or rainfall, these are conditions that may need individual and adaptive plans for these issues.

‘Adaptive management is an iterative process in which it is important to test new systems and ideas and judge how these perform under extreme climatic conditions’ – Climate change: impacts and adaptation in England’s woodlands

It is important to focus on why and how a forest needs to be managed but also on the adaptive measures that need to be facilitated in order to prevent these issues from destroying forests.

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Current research suggest that the adaptation of forests must be tailored to local communities. This is important as adaptations strategies vary among geographical location and the type of forest present.

Some strategies involve planting drought-resistant trees to provide food security and reduce erosion. Other strategies invest in forest genetic research and breeding programmes. This improves forestry growth rates and resilience to disease. Alternatively, focusing on restoring biodiversity can increase the resilience of an ecosystem and restore habitat loss.

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Local adaptation methods may involve maintaining the quality of water surrounding a forest. In dry regions, sourcing scarce water sources can help maintain a forest by providing healthy sustenance. Another local strategy may be encouraging the increase of rare species of a certain tree to make the population more abundant. This can help particularly if that certain species is a valuable asset to the local community. However, local strategies has its limitations as local information is rarely documented and often preserved for a few members of the community. Also, a globalised market can impact the infrastructure of a local self-sufficient rural community.

In summary, adapting forests for climate change cannot be solved with one over-arching solution. Each forest, depending on region, will need to have specific adaptation strategies specific to that region. As climate change is a complex issue with unpredictable outcomes, adapting for a worst case scenario may be as complex as the issue itself. Therefore, in order to enable sustainable strategies which maintain the health of a forest, it is important to plan and put systems in place to better enable these adaptive strategies.

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The forefront of climate change research

Disclaimer: I am in no way sponsored or endorsed by any of these organisations, I am just trying to spread the awareness of information on climate change.

Recent research on climate change taken from credible sources outline what current research is focused on. Some studies I have already written about in my previous posts so they will not be included within this thread. The aim of this is to give people an idea of what direction climate change research is currently heading:

Side note: an interesting podcast mini-series from the University of Oxford on climate change and its research models, economic consequences and the issues surrounding the solutions. A great listen if you do not have the time to read.

Hopefully this helps broaden the awareness on current climate change issues and at the very least provides informative sources for you to refer to when needed.