The United Nations has designated the first Monday of October every year as World Habitat Day, with this year’s Global Celebration set to be hosted by the Government of Mexico. The United Nations state that the concept is “to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right of all, to adequate shelter. It is also intended to remind the world of its collective responsibility for the future of the human habitat.”
As an organisation focused on conservation, at ARKive we understand that alongside our responsibility for the human habitat, there is also a great responsibility to care for nature’s habitats too. Fittingly, the theme this year is focusing on climate change. You may have seen our recent feature page about climate change, and we thought that in honour of World Habitat Day, it would be a great opportunity to focus on some of the natural habitats affected by climate change and the species at risk there.
The loss of sea-ice and ice-sheets is adversely affecting species from both poles. In the Antarctic, the decline in the extent of the pack-ice will result in the loss of emperor penguin breeding habitat, while reduced ice cover means less krill, a vital source of food for many Antarctic species. Likewise, in the Arctic, the polar bear relies upon the sea-ice as a platform from which to hunt its seal prey.
Species on remote islands occupy a particularly precarious position in the face of climate change, as they are unable to travel to find new suitable habitat, making them extremely vulnerable to extreme weather events such as hurricanes and drought. Rising sea levels and increases in storm activity will destroy the nesting habitat of species like the leatherback turtle.
Even slight rises in ocean temperatures can lead to coral bleaching, which leaves coral weak and vulnerable to harmful diseases. The decline of coral reefs has a subsequent knock-on effect on reef dwelling fish like the clownfish.
The rising temperature of freshwater habitats has been directly linked to stress, lower energy reserves, disease and reduced breeding success in salmon populations. Changing rain and snow patterns also impact on river flow, increasing sedimentation, disturbing nest sites and degrading the habitat.
Climate change is allowing new plants to colonise, changing habitats like tundra into boreal forest. This loss of habitat is one of the biggest threats to the Arctic fox, whilst also negatively impacting its prey species too.
For more information about climate change, take a look at the ARKive feature page.
Further information about World Habitat Day can be found on the UN Habitat website.
Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher