The latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species highlights the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate warming as the single most important threat to the long-term survival of the polar bear.
The update also highlights habitat degradation as a main threat to many fungus species and over-fishing as the key driver of decline in marine bony fish.
Polar bears on thin ice
The report, which is the most comprehensive assessment of sea ice and polar bear sub-population data to date, revealed that there is a high probability that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years.
“Based on the latest, most robust science, this assessment provides evidence that climate change will continue to seriously threaten polar bear survival in the future,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “Climate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species, and present a threat our planet has never faced before. Governments meeting at the climate summit in Paris later this month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to confront this unprecedented challenge.”
Recent studies show that the loss of Arctic sea ice has progressed faster than most climate models had predicted, with September sea ice extent declining at a linear rate of 14% per decade from 1979 through 2011. As polar bears rely on sea ice to access their prey, such as seals, an annual ice-free period of five months or more will cause extended fasting for the species, which is likely to lead to increased reproductive failure and starvation in some areas.
Polar bears are important to the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and, as apex predators, are essential to maintaining ecosystem balance in the Arctic region. Along with sea ice loss, other potential threats to the species include pollution, resource exploration and habitat change due to development. Oil development in the Arctic poses a wide range of threats, from oil spills to increased human-bear interaction.
Number of fungi on The IUCN Red List doubles
Twenty-nine species of fungi have been added to The IUCN Red List in this latest update, more than doubling current numbers. Fungi are an enormous group of organisms that are neither plants nor animals. They obtain nutrients through the absorption of decaying organic matter, recycling plant and animal waste into useful products. The main threats affecting the species are habitat loss and degradation, mostly from changing land use practices.
Fungi are extremely important to humans as medicine and food and their conservation is vital for the health of the world’s ecosystems. Fungi have a symbiotic relationship with 80% of all plants and form a crucial part of the digestive system of ruminants such as sheep and cows.
Logging of the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) which is listed as Endangered, is major threat to the fungus Leptonia carnea which has now been listed as Vulnerable.
Marine bony fishes at risk of extinction in the East Central Atlantic and Greater Caribbean regions
The latest global assessment of the 1,400 marine bony fishes of the Eastern Central Atlantic – covering the area from Mauritania to Angola – shows that 3% are threatened with extinction. In the Caribbean, 1,340 species were assessed, and of these 5% are threatened with extinction, including the golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) which is listed as Endangered.
The lionfish, which is an invasive species, is placing further pressure on marine bony fishes in the Caribbean.
The degradation of sensitive coastal habitats, pollution, overexploitation and destructive fishing practices are putting many species of marine bony fishes at risk of extinction.
Marine bony fishes are both ecologically and economically important, with the loss of these species posing a serious threat to food security and livelihoods of more than 340 million people in the regions assessed. The data from this latest assessment will be used to guide fisheries management and conservation priorities in the regions.
The IUCN Red List now includes 79,837 assessed species, of which 23,250 are threatened with extinction.
For more on the latest update visit The IUCN Red List website.
Learn more about climate change and ocean acidification on Arkive.