Climate change pushes birds, amphibians, corals to the brink

October 9th, 2008 - 12:08 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 9 (IANS) If you think only human beings are affected by climate change, think again. A study by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has revealed that 35 percent of the world’s birds, 52 percent of amphibians and 71 percent of warm-water reef-building corals are likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change.The report was released at the ongoing IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.

The report identifies more than 90 biological traits which are believed to make species most susceptible to climate change. The study further says that 3,438 of the world’s 9,856 bird species have at least one out of 11 traits that could make them susceptible to climate change.

Albatross, penguin, petrel and shearwater families are all likely to be susceptible to climate change, while heron and egret families, and osprey, kite, hawk and eagle families are among those least likely, says the study.

“This is the first time that a systematic assessment of species’ susceptibility to climate change has been attempted,” says Wendy Foden of IUCN’s Species Programme. “Climate change is already happening, but conservation decision makers currently have very little guidance on which species are going to be the worst affected.”

The study found 3,217 of the 6,222 amphibians in the world are likely to be susceptible to climate change. Three salamander families could be particularly susceptible, while 80-100 percent of Seychelles frogs and Indian Burrowing Frogs, Australian ground frogs, horned toads and glassfrog families were assessed as susceptible.

Specialized habitat requirements, such as species with water-dependent larvae, and those unable to disperse due to barriers such as large water bodies or human-transformed habitats are most at risk.

The report also found that 566 of 799 warm-water reef-building coral species are likely to be susceptible to the impacts of climate change. The Acroporidae family, including staghorn corals, had particularly high numbers of susceptible species, while the Fungiidae family, including mushroom corals, and the Mussidae family, including some brain corals, may be releatively less affected.

Coral species are vulnerable due to their sensitivity to increases in temperature, sedimentation and physical damage from storms and cyclones. Poor dispersal ability adds to the problem.

According to the latest IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 32 percent of amphibians are threatened with extinction. Of these, 75 percent are susceptible to climate change while 41 percent of non-threatened species are susceptible as well. For birds, the overall percentage of those threatened with extinction is lower - 12 percent. However, 80 percent of those are susceptible to climate change.

“There is a large overlap between threatened and climate change susceptible amphibian and bird species,” Jean-Christophe ViĆ©, deputy head of the IUCN Species Programme, says in a statement. “Climate change may cause a sharp rise in the risk and rate of extinction of currently threatened species. But we also want to highlight species which are currently not threatened but are likely to become so as climate change impacts intensify. By doing this we hope to promote preemptive and more effective conservation action.”

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