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  BBC 16 Nov 06
Climate threat to mobile species
By Richard Black Environment correspondent

Yahoo News 16 Nov 06
Climate change worsening biodiversity crisis: UN report
by Gerry Smith

UNEP 16 Nov 06
Wildlife Management Urgent in Climate-Changed World
New UNEP report Outlines Threats and Challenges to the Long Distance Travelers of the Natural World

PlanetArk 17 Nov 06
Migratory Animals Most at Risk from Warming - UN
Story by Gerard Wynn

NAIROBI - Herds of wildebeest thundering across the Serengeti and swallows flying south for the winter could all become a thing of the past if global warming is not stopped, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said on Thursday.

Speaking at UN climate talks in Kenya, UNEP chief Achim Steiner said the threat to animals which roam the planet to breed or find food in favourable climes should prod delegates to extend the Kyoto Protocol on global warming beyond 2012.

"Humanity has opened a Pandora's box on climate change," said Steiner. The UN convention on migratory species Web site said a wide variety of animals including gorillas, whales, leopards, turtles and even bats are vulnerable to global warming.

"That is why there is so much pressure on negotiators here to send a signal that we are making progress."

A major tourism draw in conference host Kenya is the annual migration of herds of zebras and wildebeest, chased by lions. Steiner said these could be at risk in a world where weather is changing and natural resources are shrinking.

"Migratory species may very well be affected by the simple fact of water availability," he told reporters. "In future, you may have to provide artificial water sources to enable animals to make these migratory routes."

The first phase of the Kyoto protocol, which sets limits for participating countries on the amount of environmentally unfriendly gas they can emit, is due to end in 2012. The protocol is intended as a first step to avert what many scientists say will be a hotter world with more extreme weather, brought on in part by decades of people pumping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mostly from burning fossil fuels in electricity plants, factories, cars and homes.

Launching a report, "Threats and Challenges to Long Distance Travellers", UNEP's Paola Deda said difficulty in adapting to climate change may benefit some smarter creatures.

"It is creating a sort of confusion, and it's always in these situations that some are faster at benefiting," she said. "Big migratory animals like whales follow their prey. Sometimes they don't know they can find prey somewhere else, but there are smarter or faster animals that identify that their prey has moved and they follow it."

BBC 16 Nov 06
Climate threat to mobile species
By Richard Black Environment correspondent

Nairobi: Some of the world's most spectacular migratory animals will be severely impacted by climate change, according to a new United Nations report.

The UN Environment Programme (Unep) says that rising temperatures spell extinction for some mobile species. Turtles are particularly affected, the report finds, with rising temperatures changing the ratio of males to females.

But it says conservation measures targeted at key areas can protect even migratory animals. By definition, migrating species must depend on several different ecosystems. Birds may fly from one continent to another, perhaps stopping at feeding grounds on the way. Whales and turtles cover vast tracts of ocean.

The UN Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which co-produced the report with Unep and the UK government, says that changes in any one of the locations which these animals use can be serious.

"Obviously these species have developed these [migration] patterns over millennia, and obviously they can develop more," said CMS executive director Robert Hepworth. "But the emphasis is that it's taken millennia. We're dealing with climate change that's likely to be drastic over the next 25 to 50 years; it's most unlikely that these species can adapt fast enough," he told BBC News.

Turning turtles

Among the animals most hit by rising temperatures are turtles. Scientists have found that at higher temperatures, some turtles produce far more female eggs than male.

In parts of peninsula Malaysia, nesting sites are producing only females, the report says. The authors also cite evidence that some turtles become more prone to cancer as the waters warm, perhaps because infectious organisms can thrive.

With birds, the main issue is climate-related damage to critical habitat, at either end of the migration routes or at stopping places. About one-fifth of bird species covered by the CMS are threatened by climate-related impacts including rising sea levels, coastal erosion and more vigorous storms, the report concludes.

Apart from turtles, species picked out as particularly vulnerable include: the North Atlantic right whale, whose main food of plankton is disturbed by shifting ocean currents several bird species in the Caribbean, which may literally be blown off course during migration by more intense spring storms the white-beaked dolphin, which is out-competed by other dolphin species in warmer waters the Baikal teal, whose habitat is threatened by drought

"We have some cases where a temperature rise will condemn a species to extinction," commented Unep executive director, Achim Steiner.

Adapt and survive

The report is not entirely gloomy. Even with major climatic changes, conserving vulnerable habitats can still help migrating species to recover.

"Migratory species need better and quicker delivery of conservation measures," said Dr Hepworth. "We have to work more efficiently to step up programmes at national and international level."

And some species are apparently adapting. Fin and bowhead whales in the Arctic are changing their feeding behaviour, finding new grounds and new species to eat. The report suggests researching ways of helping others to adapt faster.

In a two-week meeting dominated by talk of issues such as carbon markets, stabilisation wedges and the adaptation of human societies, this was a sobering reminder that climate change threatens to bring big changes to the natural world too.

Yahoo News 16 Nov 06
Climate change worsening biodiversity crisis: UN report
by Gerry Smith

NAIROBI (AFP) - Climate change is having an alarming impact on whales, dolphins, turtles and birds and other rare species that migrate over long distances, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has said.

Rising temperatures are already having a dramatic effect on many of these species' food, habitat, health and reproduction, UNEP said Thursday in a report coinciding with UN talks on climate change in the Kenyan capital.

Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, said evidence was mounting that when a migratory species dwindled or an exotic species showed up in places where previously it was absent, global warming was to blame.

"The consequences of habitat change -- changes in temperature, food -- will, and is already beginning to, fundamentally affect the ability of species to survive," Steiner said. "If people in one part of the world don't have a species there, the cause for its disappearance may well be at the other end of the world."

The species at risk include the North Atlantic right whale, whose main food supply, plankton, is declining because of a shift in ocean currents, according to the document, compiled by UNEP's Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) with help from Britain's Department of the Environment.

The range of white-beaked dolphins is reducing because it follows its prey and cannot adapt to warmer waters.

"Global warming may engender algal blooms and contribute to epizootics," or outbreaks of disease among animals, UNEP warned. "Mass die-offs of marine mammals have increased, and where the cause has been viral, environmental factors have contributed to the outbreaks or reduced the ability of the animals to fend off the illnesses."

Tumorous growths in green turtles have become more common since the 1980s, a phenomenon linked to warmer water, which allows diseases and parasites to thrive, it said.

High temperatures on nesting beaches can also affect the sex ratio among certain turtle species. Higher temperatures, in the range of 25-32 C (77-89 F), lead to a greater number of female hatchlings. An imbalance of one male to two females or one to three will have no ill effect, but if the proportions move towards one to four, populations could decline.

"Some nesting beaches are seeing temperatures rise above 34 C (93 F), which is often lethal," said the report, Migratory Species and Climate Change: Impacts of a Changing Environment on Wild Animals.

Among birds, lower water tables and more frequent droughts will reduce habitat for the Baikal teal and foraging grounds for the aquatic warbler.

Rising sea levels, coastal erosion and more powerful waves will threaten the lesser-white fronted goose, a migratory species that makes several stopovers on its long migration.

"Since migratory species rely on a number of different habitats, once you affect one you can effect the whole migration of the animal," said Paola Deda, coordinator of CMS's wildlife monitoring initiative.

She said her unit was documenting major changes in the length, timing and location of migration routes and had found that, in extreme cases, species had abandoned migration altogether. Increasingly, species that had never been spotted in areas except as exotic vagrants are taking up residence or migrating there.

Examples include southern fish such as the red mullet, anchovy and sardine, which are now being found in the North Sea, and the rosy-breasted trumpeter, one of many birds once normally confined to arid North Africa and the Middle East but now increasingly seen in southern Spain. Warmer waters also favour the common dolphin, whose range is increasing.

"Part of the challenge of understanding biodiversity is that its complexity in terms of interdependence is so little understood by us as humans," said Steiner. "We may often think 'What does it matter if we lose a species?' And only years later do we realize that the displacement of one species may have a series of effects on other species."

UNEP 16 Nov 06
Wildlife Management Urgent in Climate-Changed World
New UNEP report Outlines Threats and Challenges to the Long Distance Travelers of the Natural World

Nairobi, 16 November 2006--Climate change is and will increasingly have dramatic impacts on migratory species from whales and dolphins to birds and turtles a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.

Some species, like green turtles, are suffering higher levels of tumours with the rise linked to warmer waters that may be favouring infections. Others, like the North Atlantic Right Whale, may be impacted by a decline in their main food source-plankton-as a result shifts in big ocean currents says the study launched at the climate convention talks in Nairobi.

Meanwhile changes and losses in habitats have--and are likely to increasingly have in the future--significant impacts on species that migrate long distances.

The report, by UNEP's Convention on Migratory Species, has been compiled with support from the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It cites lower water tables and more frequent droughts that will reduce habitat for the Baikal Teal and foraging grounds for species like the Aquatic Warbler.

Around a fifth of the bird species listed under the Convention could be affected by rising sea levels, erosion and greater wave action linked with climate change including the Lesser-White Fronted Goose.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: "Biodiversity--a term for the range of animal, plant and other life on this planet--is already suffering from a range of impacts including over exploitation, loss and damage to habitats and pollution. Unchecked, climate change will pile on more pressure making it increasingly difficult for the world to meet the 2010 target--to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity by 2010".

"Migratory species are in many ways more vulnerable as they use multiple habitats and sites and a wide suite of resources throughout their migratory cycle. So we need to bolster rather than clear habitats, reduce pollution to the land, freshwater and the marine environment, more sustainably manage water supplies for people and wildlife and enact other measures to assist animals and plants to cope and to adapt in a climatically changed world," he added.

UNEP and CMS argue that conserving and more sustainably managing biodiversity in a climatically- changed world, is of the highest economic importance and important in the fight against poverty.

"Take the host of the climate convention talks, Kenya. Its national parks and biodiversity generated $700 million in foreign exchange from tourism last year. If its parks and its biodiversity--from elephants to lions and rhino to wildebeest--were lost as a result of climate change, the impacts will be felt by the economy and the livelihoods of local people who depend on visitor income," said Mr Steiner.

Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of UNEP CMS, said: "The best form of adaptation is mitigation-in other words reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the 60 per cent to 80 per cent that is likely to be needed to stabilize the atmosphere. But we know that the world can no longer avoid some measure of climate change now and in the future, so we must act to help people and the wildlife, upon which many livelihoods depend, adapt".

Sigmar Gabriel, the German Environment Minister from the country hosting UNEP-CMS, added: "I also fully endorse the new report?s conclusions. Measures, such as maintaining a coherent network of stop over sites like wetlands; creating and expanding suitable habitat like field margins, hedgerows and ponds and developing and sustaining trans-boundary corridors that allow species to migrate as the climate changes, will be key to ensuring a healthy level of biodiversity now and in the future, "he added.

Highlights from Migratory Species and Climate Change: Impacts of a Changing Environment on Wild Animals

Changes in Migration Routes and Barriers to Migration

Changes in the length, timing and location of migration routes are being documented. In extreme cases, species have abandoned migration altogether. In other cases, species now migrate to areas where they have not been recorded other than as occasional vagrants.

Exotic southern fish species like the Red Mullet, Anchovy, Sardine and Poor Cod are now being found in the North Sea. Fish species are ectotherimic (unable to regulate their body temperature) and their distribution and abundance are temperature dependent.

European Bee-Eaters (Merops apiaster) once very rare in Germany are now breeding regularly across the country. ? The Rosy-Breasted Trumpeter Finch (Rhodopechys githaginea) is one of many birds once normally confined to arid North Africa and the Middle East now found in increasingly large numbers in southern Spain.

The arrival of hundreds of Bewick Swans (Cygnus columbianus) flying in distinctive 'V' formations used to herald the arrival of the British winter; ornithologists now report numbers down to double figures. Warmer weather on the continent and the absence of the NE winds which aid their migration are the likely reasons for the swans' non-appearance in their traditional British wintering sites.

Changing wind patterns are making it more difficult for passerine birds to make their migration in the Caribbean where spring storms are becoming more numerous and of greater intensity.

This autumn several large Monarch Butterflies(Danaus plexippus), which migrate in millions every year from the USA and Canada to Mexico, have been blown across the Atlantic to England 5000 km away.

Desertification increasing the size of the Sahara Desert will adversely affect the ability of Afro-European migrants to cross this ecological barrier successfully

Habitat Changes

The following changes are being witnessed:
- the permafrost is thawing and Arctic tundra is being replaced by forest; ? desertification is occurring in Africa;
- sea levels are rising;
- hurricanes are more frequent in the Caribbean;
- Antarctic waters are getting warmer and the ice is melting affecting sea salinity Spatial distributions are changing
- one study showed the range of certain taxa has moved on average by 6.1 km towards the poles and 1m in elevation in the space of a decade. Arctic-alpine specialists will face greater competition for habitat from other species which did not previously occur at higher altitudes and latitudes.

Alien species like the Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas) brought to Europe for commercial reasons used not to be able to survive outside artificial pens. As the North Sea has grown warmer, the Pacific oyster has been able to breed in the wild and is now displacing native oysters in the Wadden Sea.

Incidence of flooding and resultant sediment run-off in Queensland, Australia damaged seagrass pasture leading to reduced growth and breeding rates for Green turtles (Chelonia mydas)

Baffin Bay hosts the largest concentrations of wintering Narwhals (Monodon monocerus). Here the trend has been for increased ice coverage in winter. The Narwhals depend on cracks in the ice to breathe and there have been several occasions when they have become trapped in the ice. Their site fidelity and the decrease in open water make them susceptible to Climate Change.

There is likely to be a general shift of species towards the poles, reducing the range of species most adapted to colder waters. The Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis), a warm water species is increasing its range, while the White-beaked Dolphin's (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) range is reducing. Predators are following their prey as prey species (eg fish) change their mean latitude and/or depth.


As migratory species are affected by climate change, then so are their prey species. For example, reproductive success of the non-migratory Great Tit (Parus major) and migratory Pied Flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) is being affected by the changing availability of caterpillar food supplies.

The temporal mismatch of prey and predator is part of a phenomenon known as 'phenological disjunction'.

Reduced oceanic salinity causes shifts in the distribution of biomass constituents of the food chain with a tendency for poleward shifts in species assemblages and the potential loss of some polar specialist species like the Narwhal (Monodon monoceros).

It is doubtful whether Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) will be able to adapt fast enough to changing ice conditions affecting the habitat of their seal prey species, and the disappearance of the ice threatens the bears' survival.

Predator demographics are affected by prey. Market Squid (Loloigo opalescens) left southern California followed by the Short-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) which prey upon them. When the squid returned Risso's Dolphins (Grampus griseus) filled the gap left by the whales; Bottle-nosed Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) numbers rose at the same time but did not decline again after the end of the El Niņo event.

Krill may be outcompeted by other species more tolerant of warmer water with repercussions for species higher up the food chain, including penguins, albatrosses, seals and cetaceans, despite their wide foraging ranges.

Animals and plants specialised to live in Arctic and Alpine environments will also face greater competition for food from other species which did not previously inhabit higher altitudes.

Data gleaned from strandings show that changes in Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) distribution in the NE Atlantic can be attributed to shifts in the North Atlantic Oscillation and to the knock-on effects on the squid species upon which they prey.

Abundance and quality of prey species is important, especially in stopover sites, and most particularly in stop-over sites adjacent to large barriers such as the Sahara Desert.

Severe breeding failures affected important seabird colonies in Scotland as a result of warmer waters leading to a loss of plankton and reduced fish numbers. In some cases 100% breeding failure occurred in some years. Following the Sahel drought of 1968-69 Whitethroat Warbler (Sylvia communis) numbers are still only 25% of what they once were.

Breeding/Nesting/Reproduction Success

Reduced breeding success (probably prey related) is apparent in some Antarctic species. In birds, abnormally heavy rainfall can adversely affect mortality rates among fledglings. The El Niņo Southern Oscillation in 1982 is thought to have resulted in the loss of an entire year of Galapagos Fur Seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) pups and abnormally high mortality rates among juvenile seabirds.

The El Niņo Southern Oscillation will also have impacts on Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) breeding migrations, and rising sea levels may lead to the loss of turtles' egg-laying beaches.

Cues in the wintering grounds that it is time to migrate may no longer be a good measure of conditions in the breeding grounds (another example of the phenomenon of 'phenological disjunction').

Bats have been known to arouse from hibernation early affecting the females' reproductive cycle.


Reduction of sea ice will impact on Ringed Seal (Pusa hispida), Bearded Seal (Erignathus barbatus) and Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) populations that use ice floes for resting, moulting and giving birth.

As mentioned above, the Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus) is a particularly vulnerable species being reliant on a small number of discrete stopover sites.

Incidence of Disease

Fibromapilloma tumours in Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are thought to grow faster in warmer waters and their prevalence has increased since the 1980s.

Other diseases and parasites thrive in higher temperatures and will impact more profoundly on the populations of their victim/host species.

Global warming may engender algal blooms and contribute to epizootics. Mass die-offs of marine mammals have increased, and where the cause has been viral, environmental factors have contributed to the outbreaks or reduced the ability of the animals to fend off the illnesses.

Reduced food supplies for Cetaceans in warmer waters affect the condition of females and interfere with the frequency of their reproductive cycles.

Reduced rainfall in the eastern Mediterranean caused a drop in nutritional levels in the sea affecting the health and condition of Striped Dolphins(Stenella coerulealba).

Feminisation of Populations

The sex ratio of turtle hatchlings is temperature dependent in both the Dermochelyidae and Chelonidae families. Higher temperatures in the range 25-32OC lead to greater number of female young (and lower temperatures to more males). An imbalance of 1 male:2 females or 1:3 has no ill-effect but if the proportions move towards 1:4, populations may be adversely affected. Some nesting beaches are seeing temperatures rise above 34 OC which is often lethal.

Related articles on Global issues: Climate change
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