how-does- climate-change-affect-plants-and-animals

How Does Climate Change Affect Plants and Animals?

Jane Marsh - March 15, 2021

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Plants and animals live in specific climates to survive and meet their needs, such as foods they eat, water and shelter. Slight changes in climate may cause them to adapt, but they can still thrive. Climate change, though, has caused significant changes to plant and animal environments. These changes can affect the ecosystem as a whole, as researchers and scientists have already witnessed.

How does climate change affect plants and animals anyways? Already, some plant and animal populations have drastically decreased due to climate change. Other effects may be less significant at the moment but could lead to endangerment or extinction. 

Below are some of the impacts that rising temperatures, changed precipitation patterns and sea-level fluctuations have made on plant and animal species.

Climate Change Explained

Climate is not weather, but it is the usual weather conditions one can expect at a particular time during the year. Weather is supposed to change every day, but the climate is supposed to stay consistent throughout the seasons, and it varies between locations. 

Years of research and documentation of climate patterns in an area show what a region can expect weather-wise. However, the climate is changing, meaning temperatures are not typical, weather patterns change, and water levels may rise or fall. 

Earth’s climate is continually changing, but the rate at which it has experienced change lately has been faster than before. The earth is no doubt getting warmer. Over the past century, the planet has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit. That’s a slight change, but it has had tremendous effects on humans, plants and animals. 

Many factors have contributed to climate change, such as increased use of fossil fuels, agriculture, volcanic eruptions and others. Because of human activity and natural causes, plants and animals have deteriorated. Here are some ways climate change has affected plants and animals throughout the globe.

It Destroys Habitats

One of the most significant impacts of climate change on plants and animals is that it destroys habitats. As the earth’s temperature continues to rise, animals and plants that live and grow in colder climates are struggling to survive and might not find a suitable habitat.

Additionally, heavier rainy seasons, extended droughts or unpredictable snowfall in regions that aren’t used to that precipitation may cause animal and plant habitat destruction. Plants may freeze or shrivel up, and animals may have difficulty staying warm or finding enough food or water. 

It Causes Migration

Migration is a direct result of habitat destruction due to climate change. For example, many of the Arctic icebergs and snowier regions are melting because of the rising temperatures. Additionally, sea levels are rising in this region as well. This has caused polar bears to seek cooler climates and higher altitudes.

For other species in warmer climates, they may experience periods of drought. They have to move elsewhere to find significant water and fresh plants to eat. Every plant and animal species plays a role in the ecosystem, so when climate change causes them to move, the entire ecosystem suffers.

It Depletes the Soil

Plants require nutrient-rich soil to grow and survive. Climate change, partially caused by emissions, depletes soil sources. It reduces the soil’s integrity, which means the plant roots can’t hold, causing plants to die. 

Plus, droughts may occur, which leads to erosion, wiping away plants as well. Any time the soil cannot rebuild itself, eventually, regions could become like deserts, called desertification, which will cause animals to migrate to find more secure sources of food and water.

It Changes Life Cycle Patterns

So how does climate change affect plants and animals? Climate change can drastically alter plant and animal life cycles. Because of climate change, the seasons are shifting. Spring or summer seems to be beginning one to two days earlier. The plants start blooming sooner than usual, and they’re lasting farther into the fall. 

Also, animals that hibernate are getting out of their hibernation earlier. Birds are flying further north as temperatures change. Fish are starting to migrate earlier to spawn. All of these climate change outcomes can make survival more difficult, especially for young plants and animals as they try to navigate the climate.

About the author

Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.