Seven Ways to Save Seven Species from Climate Change

More than one-third of species in the United States are at risk of extinction and, for many, climate change is a major threat. In just the past three decades, Earth has experienced some of the warmest years on record. This has led to an increase in wildfires, sea-level rise and storm intensity, causing a cascade of numerous other environmental changes. These seven species are feeling the heat of climate change more acutely, but there are many ways that we can help. Although some actions may seem small compared to the scale of the problem, our individual choices can have a real impact.

1. Green Sea Turtles

a green sea turtle
Green sea turtle.

Rising sea levels and climbing temperatures — both of which are caused by climate change — could drastically affect sea turtles, especially their reproduction and genetic diversity.

Sea turtles are born with a magnetic map of their birth location, and they return to that exact nesting spot to lay their eggs. But, that becomes harder to do as the tides move further and further up the beach, covering the shoreline and nesting areas. Rising temperatures may also cause a greater proportion of sea turtle hatchlings to be female because the temperature of the nest determines the sex of hatchlings. Eggs in nests above 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit will become females, meaning that warmer land temperatures will result in a disproportionate number of female offspring.

How to help: Plant vegetation along beaches

Planting vegetation along the beach, especially native plant species, will provide a better nesting habitat for sea turtles. Vegetation traps and stabilizes sand, which protects nests from erosion, temperature changes and artificial light pollution that disorients hatchlings on their way to the ocean. Some sea turtles, such as the highly endangered hawksbill sea turtle, also prefer to nest within the shelter of vegetation; while other species use vegetation as a marker to locate where they are on the beach. Planting native trees and shrubs typically requires less maintenance because native species are adapted to the specific environment, and this native vegetation will provide sea turtles with familiar nesting habitats. Planting vegetation will also directly combat climate change because plants act as carbon sinks, extracting carbon dioxide from the air. Visit the National Wildlife Federation’s native plant finder to learn more about which species of vegetation to plant in your area.

2. Monarch Butterflies

a monarch butterfly
A monarch butterfly.

A healthy ecosystem depends on pollinators like the monarch butterfly. Monarchs are extremely sensitive to weather and climate because they depend on environmental cues, specifically temperature, to trigger their reproduction, migration and hibernation. An increase in intense weather events, such as droughts and severe storms, and extreme hot and cold temperatures have contributed to the loss of hundreds of millions of butterflies, greatly threatening this climate-sensitive species. Threats from climate change, in combination with substantial habitat loss and pesticide use, have caused monarch butterfly populations to plummet 90 percent in just 20 years.

How to help: Create a sustainable garden for wildlife at your home

The main way to help monarchs is by restoring their natural habitat. Planting a pesticide-free monarch habitat garden filled with native milkweed and nectar plants will provide a haven for monarchs, as well as numerous other pollinators including hummingbirds and bumblebees. Planting native species in your garden is the best option for helping monarchs because monarchs coevolved with native plants and their life cycles are in sync with each other. Your garden should contain all the elements of a wildlife-friendly habitat — food, water, cover or shelter and places to raise young. Use these regional guides to find the best native nectar plants and milkweed for monarchs in your area. Also visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife page to learn more about how to develop a sustainable garden for monarchs at your own home. Once you have created the garden, you can certify it through the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program.

3. Moose

A moose
Moose. Credit: Ryan Hagerty / USFWS

Climate change has now caused moose populations to fall dramatically, particularly in Minnesota. Moose face threats such as overheating, disease and tick infestations — all of which are tied to warming temperatures.

These big mammals require cool climates to thrive, and summer heat stress leads to decreased body weights, a fall in pregnancy rates and increased vulnerability to disease. The warmer winters have caused spikes in the tick populations, further devastating the moose population. Ticks leave moose weakened from blood loss, and many die of anemia. Ticks also cause moose to be more vulnerable to exposure in the winter because as they try to rub off the ticks, they develop hairless patches.

How to help: Commute in an eco-friendly manner

Roads have fragmented vital habitats for moose and made it easier for predators to find them. Moose often roam through residential areas looking for food, as well, and motorists occasionally hit them — hurting both the moose population and humans.

Using public transportation, riding a bike, carpooling or switching to electric or hybrid cars will greatly help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which directly addresses climate change. Commuting in an eco-friendly manner will also help decrease the number of cars on the road and the demand for road expansions, helping to protect moose that stray into residential areas and their natural habitats. 

4. Polar Bears

A polar bear.
A polar bear.

Polar bears are in serious danger of going extinct due to climate change. In 2008, the polar bear became the first vertebrate species to be listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act as threatened because of predicted climate change. Due to rising temperatures, polar bears are losing the Arctic sea ice they depend on to live, hunt, mate and travel. Polar bears are excellent swimmers, but as the sea ice rapidly melts, they must swim farther and farther to find food, causing many to drown. Polar bears are also less likely to adapt and evolve to a changing climate because they have a low net reproductive rate, meaning a female polar bear has very few offspring during its lifetime. At the current rate of warming in the Arctic, scientists predict that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could disappear within the century.

How to help: Eat a more sustainable, climate-friendly diet

Livestock production accounts for 18 percent of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, and the average meal travels 1,200-1,500 kilometers before reaching your table. Eating meat greatly contributes to climate change as meat products generate up to 70 percent of food-associated greenhouse gas emissions.  Livestock require immense amounts of feed crop, land and water, further exasperating deforestation, and ruminant livestock like cattle emit methane, another greenhouse gas that is about 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Eating less meat, especially red meat, will decrease our reliance on animal-based products that drastically harm the environment.

Buying organic, local food products and growing your own food will help reduce emissions by decreasing the distance food is transported, as well. Certified organic products are also produced with farming methods that use recycled resources, promote biodiversity and avoid synthetic pesticides and chemical-based fertilizers.

5. Coral Reefs

A coral reef.
A coral reef. Credit: USFWS Pacific Regioin

Corals are easily stressed by changing conditions such as temperature fluctuations and sunlight exposure. When a coral is stressed by adverse conditions like extreme heat, it expels the algae living inside its tissue — causing the coral to bleach, which leaves it white in color and vulnerable to disease. If the extreme heat persists after the bleaching, the coral will no longer take in algae and will die.

Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Coral bleaching is a serious concern because if the corals die, the reefs rarely recover. Between 2014 and 2017, around 75 percent of the world’s tropical coral reefs experienced heat-stress severe enough to cause bleaching, and for 30 percent of these reefs, that stress was enough to kill the coral.

How to help: Use less energy — to save coral reefs and money

The main way to help protect coral reefs is by directly combating climate change. Most power plants burn coal and other fossil fuels to generate electricity, and this releases harmful emissions, including greenhouse gases. By saving energy both at home and work, you help reduce the amount of emissions that are released by power plants.

A simple way to save energy is by turning off lights and electronic devices like computers when they are not being used. Other ways to consume less energy include washing clothes in cold or warm water instead of hot, using a clothing line or drying rack to dry clothes, installing a programmable thermostat and purchasing energy-efficient products and appliances, such as energy-efficient light bulbs and Energy Star-certified appliances.

6. Hellbender Salamander

Ozark hellbenders were first bred in captivity at the St. Louis Zoo in 2011. Photo by Jeromy Applegate/USFWS.
Hellbender. Credit: Jeromy Applegate/USFWS.

Hellbender populations have declined throughout most of the species’ historic range, and climate change could make things even worse. Salamanders absorb oxygen through their skin, and they need cold, clean water to live in because it holds more dissolved oxygen than warmer water. This makes them highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations, which are only being exacerbated by climate change. These salamanders are also being suffocated by the increased silt and sediment run-off that flows into local waters as severe rainstorms are becoming more intense and fewer trees are present to absorb rainwater.

How to help: Buy sustainable wood furniture

As more and more trees are cut down, hellbenders face an uncertain future. One of the greatest threats to forests is environmentally harmful and unsustainable logging practices — including illegal logging, which is an epidemic in some parts of the world. The furniture industry loves wood, adds the highest value to this resource and has a special responsibility to protect forests and to avoid wood products from illegal or irresponsible sources.

Logging does not have to lead to deforestation or forest degradation; responsible forest management can preserve water quality, soil health, biological diversity and overall ecosystem functions. When you buy from companies that source their wood responsibly, specifically in ways that positively impact forests, you hold companies accountable for the way that they source wood and ensure that you are not contributing to global deforestation. The wood furniture scorecard ranks leading North American retailers on their wood sourcing policies and practices and can help you determine which companies you should buy from in order to protect the world’s forests, as well as hellbender salamanders.

7. Snowshoe Hares 

Snowshoe Hare
Snowshoe Hare. Credit: Tim Rains / NPS

During the winter, snowshoe hares are white, which helps them blend in with the snow. When the seasons change to spring and summer, the snowshoe hare’s coat turns a reddish-brown. This color helps them camouflage with dirt and rocks. Yet, climate change is causing many areas to receive snow later in the winter, meaning the color of the hare’s habitat is no longer matching the color of its coat. This makes it easier for predators, such as lynx and coyotes, to spot hares whose coats contrast with the surrounding environment. If temperatures continue to rise, hares’ fur color could mismatch the environment for up to eight weeks, leading to a decrease in hares, as well as in the Canada lynx that depend on hares for food.

How to help: Become a local advocate

An effective way to combat climate change — and in-turn help the snowshoe hare — is to urge elected officials to take action on climate change solutions. If we are serious about saving thousands of at-risk species we must invest in collaborative, on-the-ground solutions that match the magnitude of the wildlife crisis, meaning legislation needs to be passed to protect these species and combat climate change. Reach out to your governor and members of Congress to start a conversation about global warming. Demand bipartisan support in Congress to address climate change through a price on carbon, fight for climate solutions such as tax incentives for clean energy and vote for leaders that will support immediate climate action.

Visit our action fund page to find ways to raise concerns with your representatives in Congress!

Many other animals are feeling the effects of climate change. To learn more about NWF’s climate work and how to become a more environmentally conscious citizen, click here.

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Published: October 24, 2019