Global Warming’s Big Impact on Small Animals

Frogs could be the first victims of rising temperatures. (Courtesy of Flickr's James Lee)

In a recent study, scientists have examined the effects of climate change on amphibians and what climate change could bring for small animals. As temperatures rise, animals of all sizes need ongoing protection. We can help by becoming “climate-smart.”

How Will Frogs Fare?

Due to their sensitivity to temperature change, scientists found that amphibians were the perfect test subjects. They found that if unpredictable changes in temperature were to occur, amphibians may not be able to escape quickly enough due to their small size. This is enough to threaten many salamanders, frogs and newts, who could find themselves stuck in unfavorable conditions along their travels.

But physical barriers and limitations are not the most pressing issues for amphibians. They are most threatened by wavering and unpredictable temperatures, causing extreme temperature shifts which amphibians may not be able to deal with. Butterflies, reptiles, plants and other species face the same problems, in addition to battling habitat destruction and diseases.

The Times Are a Changin’

Other effects of climate change on animals in the news recently:

  • Warmer temperatures mean smaller animals. According to the “temperate-size rule,” many animals’ sizes shrink as the planet’s temperatures rise, and most cold-blooded animals are particularly affected. For example, Copepods (tiny crustaceans known as plankton) mature faster but also grow slower in warmer temperatures, so their growth is stunted. Ultimately, this affects plankton-eaters, such as baleen whales, who may become stunted as well.
  • Scientists in Fort Worth, TX, have rescued thousands of smalleye and sharpnose shiners from the Brazos River, the only place in the world where they are found. The small fish became trapped in the upper parts of the Brazos when the river dried up due to the 11-month drought caused by record-setting temperatures.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Services will decide in mid-April whether 82 coral species will be listed as endangered or threatened. Of the 82, nine are found in Hawaii, and one species, ringed rice coral, is only found in Hawaii. Coral reefs are facing extinction due to overfishing, pollution, global warning and ocean acidification, all of which also threaten coral reef inhabitants.

What We Can Do

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and in a complex ecosystem, even the smallest animals playin important role. As conservationists, we also have important jobs, and we must continue to support endangered animals and be aware of ways we can reduce our carbon footprint. Join us in our fight and help our ongoing efforts!