America’s 11 Hottest Species Stressed by Climate Change


WASHINGTON, DC, December 1, 2009 (ENS) – Honeycreepers that sing in Hawaii’s mountain forests, the lynx that inhabit the snowy Rocky Mountains and New England, and the grizzly bears of the Rocky mountains are among America’s top 10 threatened species already suffering from global warming, according to a new report released today.

The report was produced by the Endangered Species Coalition in conjunction with a coalition of groups, including American Bird Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

It focuses on 10 species or groups of related species that are listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act or are candidates for listing. The 11th species, selected in an online poll, is the polar bear, which is listed as threatened under the act.

The global warming threats to these species include increased disease, diminished reproduction, lost habitat and reduced food supply.

“Global warming is like a bulldozer shoving species, already on the brink of extinction, perilously closer to the edge of existence,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Polar bears, lynx, salmon, coral and many other endangered species are already feeling the heat.”

“The species in this report are representative of all imperiled wildlife, plants, and fish that are now facing an additional, compounding threat to their survival, and why we need to take action today to protect them,” Huta said.

If President Barack Obama and Congress do not lead, these impacts will only worsen, said Huta, who called President Obama’s decision to attend the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen next week “encouraging.”

“On the cusp of the Copenhagen meeting, the administration has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in protecting imperiled wildlife from global warming,” said Huta. “Simply put, we need binding agreements that will reduce emissions.”

Topping the list of the Hottest Species in America is the Kauai creeper or ‘Akikiki, which is a type of honeycreeper, a group of birds that shows tremendous variation. At least 59 species originally occurred in Hawaii, but, with human settlement came multiple introductions of exotic species that caused the extinction of all but 17 honeycreepers.

The imperiled ‘Akikiki inhabits the wet mountain forests on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. (Photo © Jack Jeffrey courtesy Endangered Species Coalition)

“Hawaii is the epicenter of extinction in the Americas,” said George Wallace, American Bird Conservancy’s vice president for oceans and islands. “There are a number of factors that have led to the disappearance of so many of Hawaii’s native birds since it was colonized, including introduced pigs, goats, cats, rats, and mosquitoes. Global warming adds a huge new, incipient threat to the ‘Akikiki and the other remaining endemic birds of the archipelago.”

Avian malaria is a serious threat to the ‘Akikiki, one that could be exacerbated by global warming, says Wallace. An increase in temperature of slightly less than 4°F in the montane forests of Kauai would result in an 85 percent decrease in the ‘Akikiki’s safe haven where malaria transmission is currently limited by cool temperatures.

In response to a petition from American Bird Conservancy and Hawaiian bird expert Dr. Eric VanderWerf, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the ‘Akikiki under the Endangered Species Act, along with the Akeke’e, another imperiled honeycreeper found only on Kauai.

Elkhorn coral of Florida’s reefs, number two on the list, are bleaching due to the rising temperature of the ocean as a result of global warming. A related threat, ocean acidification, caused by the ocean’s absorption of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, impairs the ability of corals to build their protective skeletons.

Bull trout found in the streams of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington is number three on the list of Hottest American Species. Bull trout require the coldest water of all species native to the Rocky Mountains, but as late summer flows are affected by global warming, fewer rivers will be able to provide ample cold water for these fish.

Lynx kittens in Maine (Photo courtesy USFWS)

The Canada lynx still found in the mountains of Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming is number four on the list. This species depends on high elevation habitat with cold, snowy winters. As temperatures rise with global warming, the snowpack and forests that lynx rely on are predicted to move up in altitude and north in latitude.

Pacific salmon that spawn in the streams of California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington are number five on the list. Salmonids typically die when exposed for very long to fresh water temperatures above about 20º C. (72º F.) Global warming has pushed the average summer temperatures of many west coast river systems above that mortality threshold, killing many fish.

The leatherback sea turtles that breed in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and are found offshore of Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf Coast states occupy slot six on the list. Global climate change threatens reproduction on nesting beaches throughout the leatherback’s range

The grizzly bears found in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming are in the seventh slot. “Grizzly bears are denning later in the fall due to global warming,” the report states, leading to an increase in hunter-bear interaction and a decline in grizzly bear food sources.

The small, colorful bog turtle found in Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia is number eight. By altering hydrological cycles, the report states, global warming will either dry out or flood the turtle’s habitat.

Only one plant made the list – it is the Western Prairie Fringed Orchid, which is still found in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota. This orchid relies on regular rainfall to maintain the distinctive Prairie potholes that are the seasonal wetlands of the Great Plains. Both the possible spring flooding and summer drought could harm the orchid.

Polar bear (Photo by ‘Ebe)

Number ten on the list is the flatwoods salamander found in the southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. With droughts predicted to become more frequent and intense in these states due to climate change, the salamanders are imperiled.

In an online vote earlier this year, the polar bear was chosen by the Endangered Species Coalition’s activists and supporters as America’s Hottest Species. The polar bear was the first mammal to be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due primarily to global warming.

Sea ice is the key habitat for the polar bear providing dens, hunting grounds, and means of travel, but global warming has an increased effect in the Arctic, with water temperatures increasing faster than elsewhere.

“The loss of summer sea ice will result in the decline of suitable hunting grounds for the polar bear, forcing them to travel greater distances to hunt,” the report states. “Declines in polar bear fat storage have already been seen resulting in stress to the bears and sometimes death.”

Besides the species listed in the report, Huta points out that climate change is dangerous to a host of other species such as the Pacific walrus, the pika, the wolverine, the Boreal toad, Mason’s skypilot, and the bearded, ringed and spotted seals. All literally losing ground to climate change.

Click here to view the report, “America’s Hottest Species.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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