10 ways climate change is affecting Australia’s wildlife, according to science

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Climate change (and the resulting destruction of nature) is the top problem facing the world, according to millennials.

The way we are going, the future looks dire. Our way of life as we know it will end if we don’t make some drastic changes soon.

Even a 3C rise in global average temperatures could spark a whole series of catastrophic events.

By 2100, there could be 10,000 heat-related deaths, dangerous water shortages in both rural and regional areas, we wouldn’t be able to grow food or work outdoors, and infrastructure would be put at risk. That’s just for starters.

But climate change doesn’t affect just humans. The environment has taken a battering, and changed for the worse in many ways.

The impact on Australia’s biodiversity is just as real, and just as devastating.

Over the last 10 years or so, a staggering 50% of animal species in Australia has been wiped out due to climate change.

The affect of climate change on Australia’s wildlife is widespread, and is getting worse.

Entire ecosystems will no longer be self-sufficient, would break down and be unable to sustain a population.

Total extinction is likely for a large portion of both currently endangered and non-endangered animal species, unless something is done to mitigate the devastating affects of climate change on the animal population.

This chart from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows the percentage of animal species likely to be at risk of extinction in just over 60 years.

Percentage of species projected to be at risk of local extinction by the 2080s. The chart shows
three different global climate change scenarios, modelling risk both with dispersal and no dispersal. WWF

Amphibians and mammals are especially at risk, facing an 81-89% likelihood of extinction due to climate change.

Here are just some of the ways Australia’s wildlife has been affected by rising global temperatures due to climate change:

1. Warmer oceans cook the Great Barrier and Ningaloo reefs alive

The Great Barrier Reef iStock

The Great Barrrier Reef and Ningaloo Reef have experienced devastating destruction of their coral reef systems over recent years due to climate change.

The Great Barrier reef has lost half of its cover in the last 27 years.

A hotter, more acidic ocean leads to coral basically being cooked alive.

Polluted water from increased run-off is infecting the sea life, and crown-of-thorns starfish that thrive in warmer water are swarming the marine habitat and attacking the coral.

The Australian government will invest $60 million over the next 18 months into its restoration and preservation. 64,000 jobs rely on its prosperity.

2. Marine turtles produce more females than males, leading to decreased breeding

A marine turtle iStock

Marine turtles are producing more females due to the higher temperatures. The sex of the turtles is determined by the temperature at incubation.

Hatchling eggs are buried in the sand, so the warmer the weather, the warmer the sand, and the higher probability of females being born.

3. Rock wallabies face food and habitat loss from extended drought

A wallaby iStock

Rock wallabies face further food and habitat loss from extended drought due to climate change.

A temperature increase of even 0.5C would see normal habitat for the rock wallaby such as Recherche Archipelago in Western Australia, the Western Australian Wheatbelt and Barrow Island off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia practically uninhabitable. Longer and more severe droughts will decrease options for food and sustenance, and competition amongst different species in the area ramps up for what little food there is.

4. Forests are less productive, and more trees die

The Devil’s Marbles in the Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve in the Northern Territory. iStock

Fauna isn’t the only wildlife affected in Australia by climate change. The impact to local flora has also been major, and could lead to catastrophic consequences in the future.

There’s increased frequency of drought in some regions as a result of reduced rainfall, increased temperatures, more natural disasters and water loss.

Forestry is facing an increased risk of declining productivity and tree mortality.

Eucalyptus trees are especially affected, and lose vital nutrients.

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the eucalyptus leaves will alter the palatability and nutrient density and quality of these leaves, and species that eat them and rely on them for sustenance will die. These species include the koala, glider, and the ringtail possum.

Which has in turn can lead to…

5. Koalas don’t get enough nutrients from the leaves


Koalas are not getting enough nutrients and moisture from eucalytpus leaves because more trees are dying and the ones remaining aren’t getting enough nutrients from the dry soil.

As a result, koalas will travel to find food, taking them out of their natural habitat up in the trees, leaving them vulnerable to predators.

6. Female butterflies in Southern Australia are leaving their coccoons earlier, effectively being born prematurely


Higher temperatures speed up butterfly growth and development by 1.6 days every decade.

On average, a butterfly’s life span is about 12 months.

That’s 2.3% of their total lifespan that they’re losing every decade due to climate change.

7. Vector-borne diseases from insect bites are on the rise


Climate change has been a big factor in the rise of vector-borne diseases (carried by insects) that has affected animal (and human) health.

Increased temperatures and rainfall facilitate vector reproduction. These events result in an increased incidence of insect-borne diseases.

8. Breeding seasons happen earlier or later than normal, and are shorter in length


Newly-born animals may not be born at the opportune time when food is available nearby because increased temperatures cause breeding season to occur either a week earlier or later than normal every decade.

As a result, vulnerable young need to travel further for food and shelter and are more susceptible to predators.

9. Snow melt has pushed the Mount Pygmie possum to the edge of extinction


The Mount Pygmie possum is one of the most threatened species by climate change.

This particular possum lives in colder climates in only three known locations in Australia — Mount Higginbotham and Mount Buller in Victoria, and Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales.

It is one of rarest species on the planet, but faces total extinction from increased snow melt and shorter winter hibernation.

10. Animals are leaving the hot, humid rainforests and moving up the mountains to where it is cooler, although they are not adapted for the climate


Animals adapted to the wet, humid climate of Australia’s dense rainforests are getting too hot as temperatures increase, and head upwards towards mountain ranges where the climate is cooler and more comfortable.

But they’re not adapted to this climate or food sources within these ranges, and can’t get the sustenance they need.

They also face competition for food from species they haven’t encountered before and so are unable to protect themselves.

With so much bad news, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But there are many opportunities to take positive action.

It is important for Australians to realise they can help and to do their part, however small.

A range of initiatives have been set up by the Australian government to try and mitigate the devastating effects of climate change.

In Australia, there is the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the (Great Barrier) Reef 2050 plan, the Emission Reductions Fund, the Carbon Farming Futures program, amongst others.

A global initiative set up in partnership with the World Wildlife Fun (WWF) is Earth Hour which aims at widening the awareness of climate change across the globe.

It encourages everyone to switch off the power for one hour on March 24 at 8:30pm AEDT and reconnect with the natural environment.

An estimated 6 million Australians will take part this year, and millions more from 180 countries.

There are also many ways to be further involved in addition to simply switching off the lights that night, which you can find here.