Thursday, October 02, 2008

Experts warn species in peril from climate change

Pic: The American Pika was placed on the IUCN Red List.

Recent studies suggest that Pika species populations are declining due to various factors, most notably global warming. A 2003 study, published in the Journal of Mammology, showed that 9 out of 25 sampled populations of American Pika had disappeared, causing biologists to conclude that the species is reaching extinction. As they live in the high and cooler mountain regions, they are very sensitive to high temperatures, and are considered to be one of the best early warning systems for detecting global warming in the western United States.

Climate change threatens to kill off up to a third of the planet's species by the end of the century if urgent action isn't taken to restore fragile ecosystems, protect endangered animals and manage growth, scientists warned Wednesday as a wildlife summit opened.

Experts noted that many plants and animals have temperature-specific habitats. A change of only a few degrees can kill them or send them seeking a better home.

"Species are moving to track what is the most ideal climate for them," Brennan said, adding that many are "desperately trying" to find their way through a maze of dams, development and other manmade obstacles along their natural corridors.

Brennan and others said creating wildlife pathways so animals can move freely northward as temperatures warm could mean the difference between survival and extinction.

"We have to have the ability for species to move and when they get there, wherever there is, it needs to be an intact and healthy ecosystem," Brennan said.

As the Earth's temperature rises, entire habitats will change, consumed by weather extremes, fires, pest outbreaks and invasions of nonnative species, said Virginia Burkett, a chief scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

Burkett cited the decline of the American pika, a small mountain-dwelling mammal also known as a rock-rabbit that is typically found in the western U.S. and Canada. The rodent maintains a body temperature topping 100 degrees, but with just a few degrees of climate change, "this animal will die," Burkett said.

She said officials need to begin reducing the non-climate change related stressors, "stop draining the wetlands, damming rivers."

Nature, she said, is highly adaptable and can be its own best protector against the effects of climate change if it can function, well, naturally.

Coastal growth also must be controlled and limited to allow for "wetlands to migrate inland naturally as sea level rise accelerates, and they can't do that if there's a road or a condominium there," Burkett added.


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