From puffins to hippos: 12 species at risk from rising temperatures

A new report from WWF highlights species in the UK and around the world that are under pressure from climate change.

From puffins to hippos: 12 species at risk from rising temperatures

Conservationists have highlighted the climate threat to 12 species in the UK and around the world, as they call for action to curb global temperature rises.

Here are the species highlighted in the report by WWF and the risks they face.

– Atlantic puffins

These “clowns of the sea” that nest around the UK’s coasts are seeing severe declines, with global warming adding to existing threats such as fishing.

Climate change is driving more severe and frequent storms that hit the seabirds, their nests and eggs, while rising sea temperatures are affecting the food chain and leading to fewer sand eels which the puffins feed their young, causing the failure of entire colonies.

Mountain Hare in Scotland
A mountain Hare in the Cairngorms in Scotland (Andrew Parkinson/PA)

The UK’s only native hares live in the Scottish Highlands, displaying a brown coat in summer that blends in with the landscape and a white coat in winter to camouflage them in the snow.

But snow cover in the Highlands has declined by more than 37 days on average between 1960 and 2016 and the hares are not able to adapt to the fast change, the report warns, leaving them wearing a striking white coat against a snowless background that puts them at more risk from predators.

– Bluebells

These native flowers make use of the open canopy in woods to grow and flower in the spring before the woodland floor is shaded over as tree leaves grow.

But warmer temperatures are shifting when plants are flowering and putting out leaves, and if bluebells cannot time their growth to coincide with the open canopy they may lose out. They could also be affected by spring drought.

A great yellow bumblebee on a red clover
Bumblebees are at risk of overheating (Ola Jennersten/WWF-Sweden/PA)

The important pollinators generate heat while flying, and their fuzzy bodies provide a warm coat which means they can thrive in cold climates.

Warmer temperatures put the insects, which are susceptible to overheating, at risk, and, while some bees have moved to cooler, more northerly regions, the extent to which they can spread is far less than the area they are losing to climate change, which could push some species towards extinction, WWF said.

Emperor penguin adults and chick (Fritz Pölking/WWF/PA)
Emperor penguin adults and chick (Fritz Pölking/WWF/PA)

The largest penguin species requires stable, thick ice for at least nine months of the year to rear their young and replace their feathers in the annual moult, as well as gaps in the ice to access feeding grounds.

Rising temperatures are expected to lead to loss of Antarctic sea ice, which will hit their breeding colonies, with all known colonies set to decline – and most become “quasi-extinct” by 2100 – if emissions continue rising as they are today, the WWF report says.

– Snow leopards

These elusive cats are adapted to harsh, cold conditions in the mountains of central and south Asia, but warming temperatures are projected to reduce the snow leopard’s habitat by 23% by 2070 without action.

The treeline is projected to shift to higher altitudes, making the landscape less suitable for the leopard’s prey, bring other predators such as wolves into the landscape and enable people and livestock to move higher, threatening the snow leopards.

Leatherback Turtle Hatchling on a beach
The gender of leatherback turtles is affected by the temperature of the sand the eggs are in (naturepl.com/Graham Eaton/WWF/PA)

The gender of marine turtles such as the leatherback, the largest species, is determined by the temperature of the sand on beaches where the eggs are laid, with hotter temperatures as the eggs are incubated leading to much higher numbers of females.

This disparity, along with the danger of eggs not hatching at all if temperatures climb too high, could threaten the survival of turtles, while rising sea levels and increased storms due to climate change could wash away nests and permanently destroy nesting beaches.

– Darwin’s frog

These frogs, named after Charles Darwin, who first encountered them in 1834, are disappearing in the face of loss of their temperate forest and wetland habitat in Chile and Argentina and the spread of the deadly Chytrid fungal disease.

Global warming is predicted to reduce their habitat and make it harder for these species that are adapted to living in cool conditions to survive, while also making conditions favourable for the fungus that threatens their future, the report warns.

Staghorn Coral with Damselfish on the coral reef in Cordelia Bank. Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras, Central America (Antonio Busiello/WWF-US/PA)
Staghorn coral with damselfish on the coral reef in Cordelia Bank off Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Central America (Antonio Busiello/WWF-US/PA)

Corals, which support some of the most wildlife-rich areas on the planet, are increasingly at risk from increased acidity and warming oceans – which leads to coral bleaching and potentially death – due to carbon emissions.

Even if temperature rises are limited to 1.5C, there is likely to be 70%-90% declines in these corals by 2050, but at warming of 2C above pre-industrial levels 99% will be lost, scientists warn, devastating the wildlife and people that rely on them.

Researchers have identified 50 resilient areas with the best chance of surviving, but they need temperature rises to be curbed to 1.5C to survive, WWF says.

Hippopotamus female and calf submerged in lily covered pool in Kenya (naturepl.com/Anup Shah/WWF/PA)
A hippopotamus female and her calf submerged in a lily-covered pool in Kenya (naturepl.com/Anup Shah/WWF/PA)

Climate change is adding to the existing threats faced by hippos which live in rivers, lakes and wetlands in sub-Saharan Africa, such as river dams, agriculture, and hunting.

Rising temperatures, long droughts and erratic rainfall, driven by climate change, are reducing water levels and quality, while hippos are not well adapted to high temperatures out of water, making them vulnerable to drought conditions. Water scarcity also increases conflict with humans.

Arabica coffee beans, which make up 60% of global coffee production (Jürgen Freund/WWF/PA)
Arabica coffee beans make up 60% of global coffee production (Jurgen Freund/WWF/PA)

This species of coffee accounts for around 60% of global production of the much-loved drink, and thrives at annual temperatures of around 18C-22C (64.4F-71.6F), but does not cope well with warming conditions, low or unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather.

The amount of land suitable for its production is set to drop significantly, the wild species that it comes from in Ethiopia is threatened by climate change, and higher temperatures make the coffee plants vulnerable to pests and diseases that are thriving in warming conditions.

– Black-headed squirrel monkey

This monkey is found in just an area of 336 square miles (870 square kilometres) of floodplain forest in the Brazilian Amazon.

Its home is expected to be reduced by almost 100% due to the combination of increased water levels, higher temperatures and extreme flooding events driven by climate change.

The report said the future of this and other Amazon primates depends on protecting wildlife corridors that allow them to move to new homes, and urgent action to limit temperature rises to give them time to adapt to the changing conditions.

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