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September 2007

Species We Can Kiss Goodbye

These dozen creatures are threatened by global warming.

Earlier this year, conservation biologists from the U.K.’s Leeds University led a global survey to determine how climate change will affect wildlife population ranges. Their troubling findings? An average of 15 to 35 percent of animals in a given region face local extinction–they’ll shift ranges to more favorable conditions or simply not survive–by the end of this century. Here’s the projected fallout in North America.

American goldfinch
Depending on CO2 emissions, populations of these lovely yellow-and-black birds will drop significantly or disappear entirely from 33 states by 2100.

Bull trout
Typically found in alpine creeks and glacier-fed streams, this fish’s habitat is so isolated it won’t be able to shift ranges without being actively transplanted. It may be gone from the Lower 48 by the end of this century.

Many warblers will shift their summer breeding ranges north, out of states like Maryland and Georgia. Of the 35 species that breed in the U.S., seven (like the black-throated blue warbler, below) have already moved an average 65 miles north in 24 years.

Sonoran pronghorn
This endangered, desert-dwelling antelope is now isolated in a region that includes Mexico, Southern California, and western Arizona. Already small in stature and numbers (the population has shrunk 80 percent since 2000), it’ll go under by 2050 from thermal stress, lack of food, and water shortages.

Cutthroat trout
Warming streams will send the cutthroat to cooler northern waters as it potentially leaves Utah and the mountains of Nevada. The Natural Resources Defense Council says that 10 percent of U.S. trout habitat will be gone by 2030.

More than 4,000 moose roamed northern Minnesota in 1985; today there are fewer than 400. “Warmer summers make moose more vulnerable to parasites brought in by a booming deer population,” says Doug Inkley of the National Wildlife Federation. “This causes chronic malnutrition and lower birth rates.”

Desert bighorn sheep
A temperature rise of about 1.8°F from 1901 to 1987, coupled with a 20 percent decrease in average precipitation in southeast California, has led to a 37 percent reduction in bighorn populations. The National Wildlife Federation claims bighorns will disappear from the region if there’s a 3.6°F temperature rise and a 12 percent decrease in precipitation over the next 60 years, which is expected if current energy-consumption trends continue.

Edith’s checkerspot
Butterflies are highly climate-sensitive, and few more so than this species, found in the West from Mexico to Canada. Lepidopterist Camille Parmesan discovered that its population extinction was four times greater at the southern end of its range and two times greater at elevations below 8,000 feet, for reasons directly related to rising temperatures. Expect this species to keep moving north.

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