Climate Change in the Pacific Region
Pacific Region


Wildlife and Plants in Pacific Northwest Marine Systems

The responses of wildlife to climate change will vary from species to species and new groupings of plants and animals will form. Some plant and animal species will be able to adjust to new habitats and they will occupy different parts of the landscape, however rare and endangered species are likely to become less abundant or go extinct. Still other species may have fewer young surviving from year to year resulting in lower population growth. Harmful algal blooms are likely to become more abundant creating additional problems for other species.

Species with fast generation times that are able to mature and reproduce quickly will be better able to adapt to the rapid environmental change as a result of climate impacts. For example, your average sea anemone will be able to pass along adaptive traits through 109 generations (~50 days) before a killer whale goes through only one generation (~15 years), potentially giving the sea anemone an advantage when it comes to dealing with rapid environmental change. Another thing that seperates sea anemone's from killer whales is their ability to move to new places. As climate change progresses habitats will change and species will need to be able to move from their current location, or range, to new ones. Many things can create barriers to a species trying to move to a new range including that some species may not be able to physically move fast enough to keep up with rapid shifts in suitable climates and habitats.  Others that do move fast enough may not find food, shelter or other resources in their new range. The ability of species to move to new places can also be affected by interactions with other species, such as competators or parasites, that may promote or prevent range shifts.

Changes to coastal areas from climate impacts such as sea level rise and erosion can lead to loss of coastal wetlands and other habitats impacting the wide array of costal wildlife that depend on those places such as fish, birds, shellfish and other wildlife. Low-lying atolls and islands in the Pacific may be completely submerged by rising sea levels or severely affected by storm surges, leading to the loss of important habitat for seabirds, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles and other wildlife. In addition, reef-building corals may be unable to grow quickly enough to stay close to the surface to sustain their nutritional needs. Ocean acidification and change in nutrient availability from potential shifts or change in intensity of winds and waves can affect entire food webs, creating cascading effects.

In the article "Impacts of climate change on the future of biodiversity" (also listed below) the authors describe their findings of climate impacts to biodiveristy as: "...the majority of models indicate alarming consequences for biodiversity, with the worstcase scenarios leading to extinction rates that would qualify as the sixth mass extinction in the history of the earth." These results are grim, but it is not too late for us to make changes in our daily lives, homes and workplaces to reduce carbon emissions and try and prevent the loss of these amazing animals.


Learn more and read about the research that provided the information above by checking out the links below:

Akcakaya, H.R. et al,.  2006.  Use and misuse of the IUCN Red List Criteria in projecting climate change impacts on biodiversity. Global Change Biology, 12, 2037–2043

Bellard, C., C. Bertelsmeier, P. Leadley, W. Thuiller and F. Cour-champ. 2012. Impacts of climate change on the future of biodiversity. Ecology Letters. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2011.01736.x

Blanchet, S., Dubut, V.   2012.  ‘Back to the future’: How archaeological remains can describe salmon adaptation to climate change, Molecular Ecology (2012) 21, 2311–2314

Geyer et al. 2011. Classification of Climate-Change-Induced Stresses on Biological Diversity.  Conservation Biology, Vol 25, No 4, 708-715 DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2011.01676.x

Husby A, Visser ME, Kruuk LEB (2011) Speeding up microevolution: the effects of increasing temperature on selection and genetic variance in a wild bird population. PLoS Biology, 9, e1000585.  doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000585

Lane, J.E., Kruuk, L.E.B., Charmantier, A., Murie, J.O., Dobson, F. S.  2012.  Delayed phenology and reduced fitness associated with climate change in a wild hibernator. Nature Published online 08 August 2012 doi:10.1038/nature11335
Pereira, H.M., Leadley, P.W., Proenca, V. et al.  2010.  Scenarios for Global Biodiversity in the 21st Century. Science, 330, 1496–1501

Staudinger et al. 2012. Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity, Ecosystems, and Ecosystem Services: Technical Input to the 2013 National Climate Assessment.Cooperative Report to the 2013 National Climate Assessment. 296 p.

Turrero, P., Horreo, J.L., Garcia-Vazquez, E.  2012.  Same old Salmon? Changes in life history and demographic trends of North Iberian salmonids since the Upper Palaeolithic as revealed by archaeological remains and BEAST analyses Molecular Ecology (2012) 21, 2318–2329 doi: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2012.05508.x



Last updated: July 1, 2013

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