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Not just the polar bear: ten American species that are feeling the heat from global warming

A new report, America’s Hottest Species, highlights a variety of American wildlife that are currently threatened by climate change from a small bird to a coral reef to the world’s largest marine turtle.

“Global warming is like a bulldozer shoving species, already on the brink of extinction, perilously closer to the edge of existence,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition which produced the report. “Polar bears, lynx, salmon, coral and many other endangered species are already feeling the heat.”

The report includes:

A juvenile’Akikiki. Photo by: Jack Jeffrey.

1) the Kaua’i Creeper, or ‘Akikiki, which is endemic to the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. With warming temperatures conservationists are concerned that its habitat will be overrun by non-native mosquitoes carrying Avian malaria. Because mosquitoes were only introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in the 19th Centuries, these birds have no natural resistance to their diseases.

2) Elkhorn coral was once dominant in Floridian and Caribbean waters, but this species has been decimated (dropping by 90 percent) due to disease and warming waters which cause coral bleaching. Higher temperature cause vital algae to abandon the coral, leaving them open to disease and sometimes mortality. Coral reefs are one of the world’s most threatened organisms due to climate change.

3) Bull trout require cold clean water and have vanished from much of their habitat due to human impacts on their river systems. Now climate change threatens the bull trout with warmer waters, warmer air, and a decrease in winter precipitation that provides that cold water necessary for the trout.

4) The Canadian lynx requires cold snowy winters in order to compete with bigger predators for their primary food, snowshoe hares. Large feet covered with fur have given the Canadian lynx an advantage in such habitats, but global warming may push this species further north and its migration may run into trouble due to increased isolation.

The Canadian lynx. Photo by: US government.

5) Pacific salmon have been heavily impacted by human activities, such as dams and pollution, which have hurt the people and other species dependent on the fish as a food source. Coldwater fish, Pacific salmon—comprising seven species—cannot survive in waters above 72 degrees Fahrenheit and rising summer temperatures are further diminishing already devastated populations.

6) The world’s largest and most ancient marine turtle, the leatherback, has seen its population plummet over the past few decades due to becoming prey to bycatch, destruction of important nesting areas, and pollution. But climate change poses a new problem. The sex of the leatherback’s offspring is temperature-dependent, meaning that warmer temperatures in the nests create females while colder temperatures, males. With warming temperatures, researchers are concerned that male leatherbacks will simply vanish in favor of females and the species soon after.

7) Even America’s largest bear, the grizzly bear, is having difficulty in a warmer world. An important food source for grizzlies in some areas–the Whitebark pines’ seeds—are declining due to increased disease from warmer temperatures. In addition, conservationists fear that warmer temperatures will bring grizzlies into increased contact with humans, which is never good for bears.

8) The bog turtle, the smallest in the United States, is threatened by erratic weather patterns on its fragile habitat. Flooding or drought in bogs will in turn kill the tiny turtles. Fractured habitats by roads and developments will also make it difficult for this rare species to migrate to other suitable bogs.

Conservationist attaching radio tracking device to bog turtle. Photo by: Teresa Amitrone.

9) The western prairie fringed orchid is a lovely flower which has lost much of its prairie habitat due to land conversion for agriculture and livestock. Climate change-caused drought will lessen the habitat available for the western prairie fringed orchid even more and make it increasingly difficult for its pollinator, the hawkmoth, to reach it.

10) Flatlands salamanders are born in ponds and spend their lives in the Longlife Pine Flatwoods in the southern United States, however both of these ecosystems have been impacted by human developments. Increased drought due to climate change could dry up important ponds for the Flatlands salamanders, while rising sea levels would literally drown vital habitat.

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