Our changing climate presages a world with less coffee, more cases of tropical disease, and more adorable Adélie penguins—but the science of which species will win and which will lose is a work in progress.
The new environmental conditions being created by climate change are some of the most serious threats to wildlife worldwide—but for those species that can exploit them, they may be a huge boon.
This is the double-edged sword recently explored in PLOS' Ecological Impacts of Climate Change Collection, a compendium of articles and blog posts in which this slideshow originally appeared.
The pieces in the collection highlight many species whose life cycles have suffered from climate change, and which are thus at risk of dying out, based on research published in PLOS. But the authors also note a number of species that appear more adaptable to the changing temperatures, including a few that may stand to benefit. Here we take a look at nine noteworthy examples.
Receding glaciers and increased breeding habitat have led to population increases for Adélie penguins, left, in the South Antarctic sea, according to New Zealand researchers.
However these same increased open-water conditions translate to a loss of breeding ground for emperor penguins, right.
Long-term flowering records in Massachusetts, started by Henry David Thoreau, reveal that high spring temperatures in 2010 and 2012 resulted in the earliest flowering in the eastern U.S. in recorded history. In 2012, plants in the area bloomed three weeks earlier than they had in Thoreau's time.
One of the species affected was this highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum).
The Asian Tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, hides out in ocean shipping containers—that was how it made its way from Asia to the U.S. in the 1980s. It has what researchers call a "high disease vector potential," since it bites humans often and is a carrier of diseases including West Nile, dengue, yellow fever, and two types of encephalitis.
Now for the really bad news: the Asian Tiger mosquito has a special affinity for the hotter, wetter conditions that climate change will bring to places such as the northeastern U.S.
Two recent papers in the collection deliver a double whammy to coffee lovers—or more specifically the Coffea arabica plant, a species that accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s coffee crop.
The threat comes, on the one hand, from too-hot temperatures in coffee-growing countries, which may make wild Arabica plants extinct by 2080. The second threat is the coffee berry borer (Hypothenemus hampei). The beetle, endemic to Africa, is the most devastating pest of coffee worldwide, and is becoming more prevalent as the continent's temperatures rise.
Gastrotheca, top, is a genus of frogs found in Central and South America. Because they are habitat specialists requiring a very specific amount of precipitation, they are likely to be unprepared to face ongoing temperature variability and changing precipitation levels.
Researchers predict a better outcome for the “squeaker” frogs (bottom) because members of their Arthroleptidae family dwell in more diverse habitats. That means more variety in the frogs' gene pool, and thus more chance that their genetics will allow them to adapt to climate change.
Warming oceans can cause stress in coral, leading them to expel the partner algae species they depend on for some of their food. Without algae, corals turn white; the phenomenon is thus referred to as "coral bleaching."
But there may be a glimmer of hope for these underwater oases. Researchers working in southeast Asia have reported that corals show lower bleaching susceptibility if they are at locations that bleached a decade earlier, implying an adaptive response, possibly due to a molecular mechanism enabling coral heat tolerance.
The polar bear is exquisitely adapted to its icy environment, but with glaciers melting at an alarming rate, this high suitability for one habitat, and the polar bear’s accompanying low genetic diversity, may well be its undoing in a warmer world.
These maps show which areas are home to today’s most vulnerable birds, amphibians, and coral.
Blue indicates the number of species, as a proportion of all species in a region, that are highly sensitive to changes in climate conditions, while yellow shows the proportion of species with high exposure (meaning those which will likely experience the largest changes in climate conditions).
Maroon shows the overlap of those two conditions—and thus where the most vulnerable species are most at risk. Data comes from the largest assessment of its kind, part of the PLOS Ecological Impacts of Climate Change Collection.