The Center for Biological Diversity and 350.org
On Saturday, Oct. 22, 2009 demonstrators around the world made a high-profile plea to world leaders to recognize a single number: 350. That's the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in parts per million, that some leading scientists say represents a safe level for life as we know it on Earth. The level today stands at 387 ppm, and time is running out to reduce emissions dramatically enough to stave off dramatic changes -- change that could include the extinction of hundreds of animals. The Center for Biological Diversity, in recognition of 350.org's Day of Climate Action, has produced a sobering portrait of 350 U.S. wildlife species at risk if we humans fail to rein in our fossil fuel emissions. (They're represented here in a stunning mosaic.) In this feature, we take a look at 13 species from across the U.S. that demonstrate the varied threats posed by climate change to our wildlife.
Ranging from Southern California into Baja California, Mexico, the arroyo toad endures harsh conditions by burrowing into the sand along streams, where it seals itself in a layer of shed skin to maintain its moisture and body heat levels. Already down to 35% of its historic population numbers, this toad is threatened by global warming, which promises to increase the intensity and duration of droughts in the Southwestern United States. It is one of 21 amphibian species threatened by global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
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Karner Blue Butterfly
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
Kemp's ridley sea turtle is the smallest and rarest sea turtle, known to inhabit the Atlantic from New England to the Gulf of Mexico. How rare? Over 50 years, its numbers dropped from 89,000 to just 1,000 in the 1980s, primarily due to shrimp trawlers that snag the turtles by accident. Sea-level rise from climate change could land another critical blow, if the turtles lose nesting habitat. Surprisingly, higher sand temperatures could also play a role: Like many reptiles, this turtle's sex is determined by heat during incubation. It is one of 12 reptiles threatened by global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Denied Endangered Species Act protection by the U.S. government, the emperor penguin is nonetheless considered threatened by activists. The Made famous by March of the Penguins, emperor penguins rely on sea ice to rear their chicks as part of their extraordinary 75-mile mating season trek. That sea ice may not be stable in a warmer world, as recent evidence suggests. It is one of 73 birds, including several penguin species, endangered by global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Sonora Tiger Salamander
You'd think the desert species would do ok if it gets hotter, but that's not the case. Another Arizona-Mexico desert species imperiled by climate change is the Sonora tiger salamander. This reptile-lookalike lives in such a small area that any change to its environment puts it at risk -- especially a change that distance between an amphibian like this and the water it needs to breed. It's one of 21 amphibians endangered by climate change, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Mount Graham Red Squirrel
Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope
A resident of the desert Southwest through thousands of years of natural climate variation since the Pleistocene, these ancient creatures once were as common as rats, with as many as 1,000 per square mile in the Mojave Desert as recently as the early 1900s. While loss of habitat is an immediate threat, global warming could add disease, fire, predation and new habitat threats. It is one of 12 reptiles threatened by global warming, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Tortoises are in trouble elsewhere in the world, too: Learn about Madagascar's turtle crisis.