December 14, 2009

Climate Change Threatens Australian And Polar Animals

A report released Monday at the UN climate summit showed that climate change threatens the survival of dozens of animal species from the emperor penguins to Australian koalas, AFP reported.

The study from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an intergovernmental group, warned that rising sea levels, ocean acidification and shrinking polar ice are taking a heavy toll on species already struggling to cope with pollution and shrinking habitats.

Wendy Foden, an IUCN researcher and co-author of the study, said humans are not the only ones whose fate is at stake here in Copenhagen -- some of our favorite species are also taking the fall for our CO2 emissions.

The authors wrote that climate change undermines the viability of 10 species, including the leatherback turtle, the beluga whale, clownfish, the emperor penguin and salmon.

The report added that Australian koalas face malnutrition and ultimate starvation as the nutritional quality of eucalyptus leaves declines as CO2 levels increase.

However, it is likely to be the polar species that suffer the most hardship, as the ringed seal is being forced further north as sea ice it relies on for rearing its vulnerable pups retreats every decade.

Similar problems await the emperor penguin, which has adapted to thrive in harsh Antarctic conditions, but reduced ice cover makes it harder to mate and raise chicks, and has caused a sharp decline in the availability of its major food source, krill.

The common red fox has moved northward as once-frozen tundra gives way to forest -- where it hunts and competes with its far rarer arctic cousin.

Meanwhile, the beluga whale is faced with two global warming conundrums: loss of sea ice, which makes it harder to find prey, and the rush to open new maritime routes, which is likely to result in deadly ship strikes.

Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of the IUCN's Species Program, said climate change is an additional and major threat for a large portion of biodiversity.

Currently, ocean acidification in tropical regions -- a direct result of warming seas -"“ has caused more than 160 species of staghorn corals to die off, which is affecting the tens of millions of people that depend on healthy coral reefs for their livelihood.

The changing ecosystem impairs sense of smell for Clownfish, which they use to find the sea anemones they rely on for protection.

Overfishing and lower oxygen levels resulting from increased water temperatures have lowered salmon stock by boosting their susceptibility to disease and disrupting their breeding.

Some 120 leaders will be attending the United Nations climate talk summit on Friday, where they are tasked with forging a durable solution to global warming and helping poor countries cope with its consequences.


On the Net: