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Extreme weather poses a serious threat to wildlife

"We now need to act to ensure species have the best chance to survive," biologist James Watson said.

By Brooks Hays
A heatwave during the summer of 2018 wiped out a third of Australia's flying fox population. Photo by University of Queensland
A heatwave during the summer of 2018 wiped out a third of Australia's flying fox population. Photo by University of Queensland

Dec. 21 (UPI) -- For wildlife, extreme weather is a serious threat.

New analysis by researchers at the University of Queensland showed extreme weather has triggered significant population losses and even local extinctions of flora and fauna across the globe.

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Multiple studies show that as the climate warms, extreme weather, including droughts, large storms, flooding and heat waves, will happen more frequently.

"The growing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as cyclones, droughts and floods is causing unpredictable and immediate changes to ecosystems and obstructing existing management efforts," environmental scientist Sean Maxwell said in a news release. "The deaths of up to one third of Australia's spectacled flying foxes in an extreme heatwave north of Cairns in November comes in the wake of our research, and is a stark illustration of the importance of the study."

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During the survey of ecological records from all over the planet, Maxwell and his colleagues found extreme weather events were linked with 100 cases of serious population decline and 31 cases of local population extinction.

"Populations of critically endangered bird species in Hawaii, such as the palia, have been annihilated due to drought, and populations of lizard species have been wiped out due to cyclones in the Bahamas," said Maxwell.

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Birds, fish, plants and reptiles were most significantly impacted by cyclones, while mammals and amphibians were most greatly affected by drought. But the data showed all kinds of plants and animals can be negatively affected by all kinds of extreme weather.

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Researchers published their findings this week in the journal Diversity and Distributions.

"As climate change continues to ensure extreme climate and weather events are more and more common, we now need to act to ensure species have the best chance to survive," biologist James Watson said. "Wherever possible, high quality and intact habitat areas should be retained, as these are the places where species are most resilient to increasing exposure to extreme events."

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