Birds, frogs and corals at risk from climate change

Posted: 7 October 2008

Thirty-five per cent of the world's birds, 52 per cent of amphibians and 71 per cent of warm-water reef-building corals are likely to be particularly susceptible to climate change, the first results of a scientific study have revealed.

Emperor penguin adults and chick
Emperor penguin adults and chick
Emperor penguin adults and chick. Photo © WWF / Fritz Pölking
The report by the World Conservation Union (IUCN)identified more than 90 biological traits which are believed to make species most susceptible to climate change. It found that 3,438 of the world's 9,856 bird species have at least one out of 11 traits that could make them susceptible to climate change.

Albatross, penguin, petrel and shearwater families are all likely to be susceptible to climate change, while heron and egret families, and osprey, kite, hawk and eagle families are among those least likely to be susceptible to climate change.

"This is the first time that a systematic assessments of species' susceptibility to climate change has been attempted," says Wendy Foden, of IUCN's Species Programme. "Climate change is already happening, but conservation decision makers currently have very little guidance on which species are going to be the worst affected."

Frogs and toads

The study found 3,217 of the 6,222 amphibians in the world are likely to be susceptible to climate change. Three salamander families are could be particularly susceptible, while 80-100 percent of Seychelles frogs and Indian Burrowing Frogs, Australian ground frogs, horned toads and glassfrog families were assessed as susceptible.

Specialized habitat requirements, such as species with water-dependant larvae, and those unable to disperse due to barriers such as large water bodies or human-transformed habitats are most at risk.

Bleached corals, Great Barrier Reef
Bleached corals, Great Barrier Reef
Bleached corals on southern Great Barrier Reef. Photo © Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, University of Queensland
The report found that 566 of 799 warm-water reef-building coral species are likely to be susceptible to the impacts of climate change. The Acroporidae family, including staghorn corals, had particularly high numbers of susceptible species, while the Fungiidae family, including mushroom corals, and the Mussidae family, including some brain corals, possess relatively few.

Coral species qualified due to their sensitivity to increases in temperature, sedimentation and physical damage from storms and cyclones. Poor dispersal ability and colonization potential were used as a further important indicators.

Extinction threat According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 32 per cent of amphibians are threatened with extinction. Of these, 75 per cent are susceptible to climate change while 41 per cent of non-threatened species are susceptible to climate change. For birds, the overall percentage of those threatened with extinction is lower - 12 per cent. However, 80 per cent of those are susceptible to climate change.

"There is a large overlap between threatened and climate change susceptible amphibian and bird species," says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of IUCN Species Programme. "Climate change may cause a sharp rise in the risk and rate of extinction of currently threatened species. But we also want to highlight species which are currently not threatened but are likely to become so as climate change impacts intensify. By doing this we hope to promote preemptive and more effective conservation action."

Note: See more about the 2008 Review of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species here