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Wildlife and Climate Change

Overview

Learn how WWF and partners are helping communities adapt to changing rainfall patterns and minimizing encroachment on critical mountain gorilla habitat.

Changes in climate and extreme weather events have already begun to affect biodiversity across the globe. And climate change also worsens other threats like habitat destruction, overexploitation, and disease.

From the shrinking habitat of the polar bear to increased water scarcity driving human-wildlife conflict, these changes will become more pronounced in years to come.

WWF is working to better understand how our changing climate impacts biodiversity, and altering our conservation strategies accordingly. We are assessing our priority species to determine traits that make them resilient or vulnerable to changes in climate, and recommend climate-adaptive management strategies based on our findings. 

A whale's eye view of Antarctica

Whales are awe-inspiring and often elusive creatures. Their distribution and critical feeding areas are currently poorly understood, and as climate change and krill fishing increase, our time to learn more about these giant mammals is running out. However, with the help of Dr. Ari Friedlaender, a whale ecologist and National Geographic Explorer, WWF is using whale tagging to discover a wealth of new information.

The fluke of a humpback whale diving to feed

Why It Matters

  • Range Shifts

    Climate is the most important predictor of butterfly species distribution. Butterflies have been documented shifting their range toward the poles and to higher altitudes.

  • Changing Food and Water Availability

    African elephants need up to 300 liters of water a day, just for drinking. As rainfall patterns change, humans and wildlife are competing for diminishing sources of water.

  • Increase in Pests and Disease

    As winters get warmer and shorter, moose populations in the northern US are declining due to tick infestations.

  • Changes in the Timing of Life Cycle Events

    Responding to warmer spring temperatures, plants are flowering earlier than they used to, resulting in a mismatch between peak plant growth and the animals that depend on them.

  • Coral Bleaching

    Oceans have absorbed much of the planet’s warming since the Industrial Revolution. Warming oceans are causing corals to expel the algae living in their tissues and turn white—a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Over time, the corals can die off and no longer offer a healthy ocean habitat for the species that rely on them for feeding and protection.

What WWF Is Doing

visiting a watering hole in Thailand

WWF's Nikhil Advani and Wayuphong Jitvijak, and a park ranger in Thailand's Kui Buri National Park, where we are working to secure freshwater for elephants and other wildlife.

Species Assessment Tool

Researchers and conservation practitioners can use this tool to assess a species’ vulnerability to climate change. They are encouraged to share their results with WWF’s ongoing project.

polar bear

WWF Climate Crowd

WWF Climate Crowd is a new initiative to crowd source information on how rural communities are responding to changes in weather and climate, and how their responses are impacting biodiversity. We are partnering with other organizations to collect this data, find and implement ways to better help communities adapt, and alter our conservation strategies in light of the information we gather.

Learning Resources

Built around WWF's wildlife and climate change work, we have developed additional learning resources designed for educators teaching advanced high school and college students.

Adaptation Projects

WWF works with local communities, governments and others around the world to help nature and people prepare for the many impacts of a changing climate. To do this we:

Experts