Currently, there are over 41,000 species on the IUCN Red List. Of these, 16,300 are threatened with extinction. These statistics are alarming by themselves. But, we now know that over 700 of those species already threatened by extinction are being hit hard by climate change.
Of the species threatened with extinction that are listed on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, 23% are bird species and 47% are land mammals. These numbers are significantly higher than previous estimates. However, in addition, 4% of bird species and 7% of land mammals are also being affected by, “climate change and severe weather.”
According to this article in Nature Climate Change, marsupials and primates are being hardest hit.
The reason for the increased risk for marsupials and primates is because of their specialized habitats. Their homes are in mostly tropical regions and the climate there has been relatively stable for thousands of years. The article states, “Many of these [animals] have evolved to live within restricted environmental tolerances and are likely to be most affected by rapid changes and extreme events.”
“In addition,” the article goes on to say, “primates and elephants are characterized by very slow reproductive rates that reduce their ability to adapt to rapid changes in environmental conditions.”
The more specialized the diet of the animal, the more it is adversely affected by climate change. For example, plant eaters are at risk because climate change affects plant distribution. If the plants disappear from their habitat, the animals starve.
Birds living in cold mountain climates were especially found to be at risk. “Populations of species living at high altitudes and in colder places have fewer opportunities to move towards cooler areas or upslope to avoid increasing temperatures, and hence may have increased extinction risk,” the article states.
Higher temperatures in the mountain climates encourages the birds to lay their eggs earlier in the year. This is a problem because it leads to, “disruption in synchronization between the timing of chick-feeding and peak food availability,” states the article.
Climate change has not been found to affect rodents, insect-eaters and two groups of mammals. This is because they make their homes in burrows that provide protection against weather, and/or they don’t require a specialized habitat, and/or they breed quickly.