The Climate-Human-Wildlife Nexus

by Gbolagade A. Lameed (ELP 2014), Nigeria

The characteristics and interactions of habitats, wildlife, and human beings in order to achieve human development goals have been a major challenge in resource management. Such social behavior is described as a nexus of people living together in social groups. Birds, fish, and land-based animals (wildlife) are all under the threat of habitat and climate alteration due to human actions and reactions. Therefore, man most importantly, apart from the rest of the living world could be in peril due to various anthropogenic activities.

Climate change is predicted to cause a number of extreme weather events which could directly affect wildlife. The biggest concern is how changes in weather affect the habitats in which species coexist. It is estimated that 20-30% of plant and animal species will be at risk of extinction if the global temperature rises by more than 1.5 - 2.5°C. Sea level rise will reduce land area in some countries, which will instantly affect vegetation that is currently used for homes and as food by animals. Further changes in rainfall and temperature will affect many animal and plant species. Some species might be unable to adapt quickly enough and habitats might not be available for them to move into. Climate change will affect the whole chain of wildlife existence. An example - Sea turtles are affected throughout their lives by climate change: their sex is determined by the temperature of the sand in which eggs incubate (cooler sand produces males, too-hot sand produces females only). Not all change is bad. As we lose some species, new ones will arrive. Likewise, as temperatures continue to rise, animals will react by changing how they live, moving to new areas, or disappearing because they can't find the type of home or food they need. For example, some fish can't live in water that is very hot and won't be able to find cooler refuges.

Image icongbola1_2.png Figure 1: Annual precipitation around the major ecosystems in the world

Some species have, of course, adapted to changes in their climate before. However, it is believed that they need a longer period of time to adapt to change than human beings. One of the main concerns with species shifting from where they are now is that if climate change occurs very quickly, some wildlife may not be able to adapt and move quick enough and so may not survive.

The climate of the Earth is always changing. In the past, it was altered as a result of natural causes. Nowadays, changes largely occur as a result of human behavior in addition to natural changes in the atmosphere. A variety of human activities produce greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and hydrofluorocarbons (CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs), methane (CH4), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), thereby increasing the atmospheric concentration of emissions. These industrial emissions trap the sun's heat and warm the planet.

Image icongbola2_2.png Figure 2: Assimilated total Ozone released into the atmosphere around the world

 

 

Image icongbola3-300x165_2.png Figure 3: Carbon dioxide quantification release into the atmosphere/ecosystem over the decades

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since pre-industrial times, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have gone up 30 percent, from 280 parts per million to more than 360 parts per million; in the last 35 years alone, CO2 levels increased over 12 percent. If this trend continues, CO2 concentrations will double by the end of the next century. Humans will continue to drive future climate change, with potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences, if necessary action is not taken to reduce greenhouse gases.

Wildlife will face similar threats like others in the environment, because vegetation is land's life-sustaining feature. Due to rapid temperature increase, the temperate and tropics are expected to push climate and vegetation zones northward over an astounding distance of 93 - 341 miles over 100 years. Many plant and animal species are unlikely to have time either to adapt to this warming, or to adjust their ranges to keep pace with the shift in climatic zones. Such dramatic shifts in vegetation could jeopardize animal populations, since abundant vegetation is critically important to all terrestrial wildlife. Climate change is the single greatest threat imperiling the entire National Wildlife Refuge system such as Game Reserves and National Parks. Large scale changes to ecosystems and habitats will reduce the Refuge System's ability to support wildlife and visitor programs.

Image icongbola4-300x220_2.png Figure 4: Heat transferable within the continents of the World

Image icongbola5-300x260_2.png Figure 5: Exchange of heat within the atmosphere/biosphere

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ways in which climate change affects wildlife are quite complex and all of them interact with each other. The impacts can be summarized as follows:

  1. Impacts on ‘climate space’
  2. Changes in the timings of seasonal events
  3. The impacts of extreme weather events
  4. Changes in community ecology
  5. Changes in land use and management

Image icongbola7_2.png Figure 6: Current experience of desert encroachment and species loss are recent effects of climatic changes in the Tropics

Image icongbola8_2.png Figure 7: Visible impacts of climate change on wildlife are: migration, lack of abode, mortality, poor food and different kind s of diseases

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Strategic Action Plan has three key elements to manage the incessant climate change effect in the world (The US Fish and Wildlife Service, RSPB and IUCN 2012). They are as listed:

  • Adaptation - helping to reduce the impacts of climate change on fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats
  • Mitigation - taking actions to reduce greenhouse gases in the earth's atmosphere
  • Engagement - reaching out to Service employees, local, national and international partners in the public and private sectors, key constituencies and stakeholders and the general public to join forces and seek solutions to the challenges posed by climate change

In conclusion, nature conservation has a key role to play in addressing this issue. However, there is little current consensus on the practical measures needed to make the countryside ‘permeable’ to species moving in search of new climate space and habitats. Wildlife corridors have been proposed as one solution, but some recent studies suggested that they are unlikely to be effective for all species, and may even have perverse effects, acting as ‘predator traps’ or conduits for the spread of invasive species. One species’ corridor may be another’s barrier. Research is urgently needed to determine which groups of species rely on what type of features in the landscape for dispersal. In the meantime, some simple approaches can be taken to make the countryside more hospitable to wildlife. Increasing the numbers of hedges, ponds, water-filled ditches, patches of woodland, scrub and extensively managed grasslands and field margins will help.

Agri-environment schemes are perfectly placed to deliver these features within the farmed landscape. Ensuring that these schemes are fully funded and available to all land managers is a key challenge for any government that is keen to ensure that wildlife survives the impacts of climate change. Land-use planning can also help wildlife to respond to climate change by securing habitat and other features to support biodiversity in the early stages of new developments.