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Animals Affected by Climate Change

Exploring how climate change could impact species around the world

You may have heard of a climate change risk assessment for a city, state or country—what extreme weather events it might experience, how global warming could impact its economy, or how changes in its air quality could affect people's health. But have you ever heard of such an assessment for wildlife?

"It's an emerging field of study, particularly the method we're using," says Nikhil Advani, a senior program officer for WWF's climate change adaptation program. "Conservation biology has traditionally focused on historic threats to species, like habitat destruction and overexploitation. And while addressing those threats remains vital, it's becoming increasingly clear that we need to understand how climate change could harm the various species we’re trying to protect."

To that end, Advani has been conducting vulnerability assessments and recommending management strategies for some of the most important species WWF is working on. Here's a look at some of the key vulnerability and resilience factors for those species—and a map of where they live today.

grey map of the world
polar bear habitat map

Polar Bear

Ursus maritimus

  • VULNERABILITY Habitat specialists; rely almost entirely on the sea-ice environment.
  • RESILIENCE Opportunistic eaters; prefer seals, but will feed on whale carcasses and even hunt walrus and beluga. Will prey on land animals when necessary.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Vulnerable
map of African elephant habitat

African Elephant

Loxodonta africana

  • VULNERABILITY Need 40-80 gallons of fresh water a day, just for drinking.
  • RESILIENCE Live in an incredible range of habitats, from open savannas to dense tropical forests.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Vulnerable
map of Asian elephant habitat

Asian Elephant

Elephas maximus

  • VULNERABILITY Prefer to eat native grasses and other local plants that invasive species are beating out.
  • RESILIENCE Live in a wide variety of habitats and across a broad range of altitudes.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
cheetah habitat map

Cheetah

Acinonyx jubatus

  • VULNERABILITY Very low genetic diversity within the species could hinder ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
  • RESILIENCE Incredibly low fresh water requirements—need a drink only every 3-4 days.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Vulnerable
gorilla habitat map

Gorilla

Gorilla beringei beringei

  • VULNERABILITY Confined to a very small range surrounded by human settlements, so they can’t move elsewhere.
  • RESILIENCE Not picky eaters; feed on everything from fruit to flowers to tree bark.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
monarch butterfly habitat map

Monarch Butterfly

Danaus plexippus

  • VULNERABILITY Heavily dependent on environmental cues for reproduction, migration and hibernation.
  • RESILIENCE Have a short life span and fast reproductive rate, which could aid adaptation to changes in the environment.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS While monarchs themselves aren’t considered an endangered species, IUCN recognizes their migration as an endangered phenomenon.
panda habitat map

Giant Panda

Ailuropoda melanoleuca

  • VULNERABILITY Feed almost exclusively on bamboo plants.
  • RESILIENCE Can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
sea turtle habitat map

Green Sea Turtle

Chelonia mydas

  • VULNERABILITY Very sensitive to temperature changes at all life stages—for example, the sex of baby turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand the eggs are laid in.
  • RESILIENCE High amounts of genetic diversity within the species, which increases their chances of adapting to changing environmental conditions.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
snow-leopard habitat map

Snow Leopard

Panthera uncia

  • VULNERABILITY Susceptible to indirect impacts of climate change, such as habitat encroachment by humans as a result of changing conditions in the region.
  • RESILIENCE High mobility across their large, mountainous range—not bound to a narrow altitude or region.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
tiger habitat map

Tiger

Panthera tigris

  • VULNERABILITY Very small population size—thought to be as few as 3,200 individuals.
  • RESILIENCE Live across a vast range of habitats, from coastal Bangladesh to the frigid Russian Far East.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
Polar Bear

Ursus maritimus

  • VULNERABILITY Habitat specialists; rely almost entirely on the sea-ice environment.
  • RESILIENCE Opportunistic eaters; prefer seals, but will feed on whale carcasses and even hunt walrus and beluga. Will prey on land animals when necessary.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Vulnerable
Snow Leopard

Panthera uncia

  • VULNERABILITY Susceptible to indirect impacts of climate change, such as habitat encroachment by humans as a result of changing conditions in the region.
  • RESILIENCE High mobility across their large, mountainous range—not bound to a narrow altitude or region.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
Giant Panda

Ailuropoda melanoleuca

  • VULNERABILITY Feed almost exclusively on bamboo plants.
  • RESILIENCE Can tolerate a fairly wide range of temperatures.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
Tiger

Panthera tigris

  • VULNERABILITY Very small population size—thought to be as few as 3,200 individuals.
  • RESILIENCE Live across a vast range of habitats, from coastal Bangladesh to the frigid Russian Far East.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
Monarch Butterfly

Danaus plexippus

  • VULNERABILITY Heavily dependent on environmental cues for reproduction, migration and hibernation.
  • RESILIENCE Have a short life span and fast reproductive rate, which could aid adaptation to changes in the environment.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS While monarchs themselves aren’t considered an endangered species, IUCN recognizes their migration as an endangered phenomenon.
Green Sea Turtle

Chelonia mydas

  • VULNERABILITY Very sensitive to temperature changes at all life stages—for example, the sex of baby turtles is determined by the temperature of the sand the eggs are laid in.
  • RESILIENCE High amounts of genetic diversity within the species, which increases their chances of adapting to changing environmental conditions.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered.
African Elephant

Loxodonta africana

  • VULNERABILITY Need 40-80 gallons of fresh water a day, just for drinking.
  • RESILIENCE Live in an incredible range of habitats, from open savannas to dense tropical forests.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Vulnerable
Mountain Gorilla

Gorilla beringei beringei

  • VULNERABILITY Confined to a very small range surrounded by human settlements, so they can’t move elsewhere.
  • RESILIENCE Not picky eaters; feed on everything from fruit to flowers to tree bark.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
Asian Elephant

Elephas maximus

  • VULNERABILITY Prefer to eat native grasses and other local plants that invasive species are beating out.
  • RESILIENCE Live in a wide variety of habitats and across a broad range of altitudes.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Endangered
Cheetah

Acinonyx jubatus

  • VULNERABILITY Very low genetic diversity within the species could hinder ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.
  • RESILIENCE Incredibly low fresh water requirements—need a drink only every 3-4 days.
  • IUCN RED LIST STATUS Vulnerable

 

This research was funded by the General Motors Foundation. Learn more about species and climate change.

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World Wildlife magazine provides an inspiring, in-depth look at the connections between animals, people and our planet. Published quarterly by WWF, the magazine helps make you a part of our efforts to solve some of the most pressing issues facing the natural world.

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