Even before the public at large became hip to global warming, many birds already moved up the start of their annual migrations by as much as three weeks in response to rising temperatures. Some other wildlife began behaving differently than normal and some perished. Example: Tens of thousands of Adelie penguins have died in the Antarctic, apparently because ice no longer extends far enough into the sea for them to reach their breeding grounds.
The polar bear the poster child of climate change relies on Arctic ice to hunt seals. But a record loss of ice is forcing bears to spend more time on land or drown at sea. One study says the bears may be resorting to cannibalism.
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. Some fish can't live in too-hot water and won't be able to find cooler refuges. Walruses and gray whales in the Bering Sea near Alaska already are finding less of the traditional prey they depend on, while fish normally found in warmer waters are moving in. Tigers that live on low-lying mangrove islands in the Sundarbans of India are in trouble; it's predicted that a dozen islands will disappear beneath rising seas by 2020.
It's amazing how a relatively small rise in temperature can alter an animal's life. 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); and some rely on coral reefs, which themselves are already succumbing to climate change. Then there's the issue of nesting beaches for turtles. They're increasingly disappearing beneath rising seas.
"Climate change is arguably the greatest threat to the world's biodiversity," World Wildlife Fund scientist Lara Hansen testified to a Senate committee. Her organization argues that society must start planning where protected areas need to be in the future for species' survival. (See: www.worldwildlife.org/climate/publications/lara2007.pdf).
For more info:
Follow polar bears via the Polar Bear Tracker web site: http://tinyurl.com/2qtsvg
Animals struggle with effects of global warming: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/graphic/2007/09/15/GR2007091500124.html
Penguins' struggle is a warning to the world: www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-penguins_mainjul01,1,7693505.story
Birdwatchers' guide to global warming -- see how birds in your state may be affected www.abcbirds.org/climatechange/statepage.htm
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