How do we stop animals from becoming extinct?

Limit climate change to protect species

The red list of endangered species around the world is getting longer every year. The World Conservation Union IUCN 5583 currently lists animal and plant species threatened with extinction, including subspecies. Another 20,000 species are considered endangered or critically endangered.

Many animal species are threatened because they are hunted or poached. These include the pangolins: their meat and scales are in great demand in China, as a delicacy or for traditional Chinese medicine. All eight pangolin species are threatened, and some are on the verge of extinction. According to CITES, the trade in them is now banned, but the illegal trade continues.

Pangolins could become extinct in ten years.

Homeless

Many other species suffer primarily from habitat loss. All three orangutan species, for example, are threatened with extinction because more and more trees are being felled in the forests in which they live to make way for palm oil plantations.

Orchards are being turned into new building areas, and garden ponds are being filled in to create a barbecue area in their place - in our modern world, many animals and plants simply no longer have room.

Climate change will only make matters worse. Because species that are adapted to the savannah cannot survive when their home turns into a desert. "Each species prefers a very specific climate," Rachel Warren of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, told DW. "We also don't like it when it's too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry."

Not only polar bears are threatened by climate change.

Warren and her colleagues in East Anglia and at James Cook University in Australia examined 115,000 species around the globe. They looked at their habitat and how it will change in a warmer world. Even a difference of 0.5 degrees Celsius can be a question of survival or extinction, they write in Science on Thursday.

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, if possible even to 1.5 degrees. "This ultimate goal of 1.5 degrees under the Paris Agreement would mean tremendous benefits for biodiversity," says Rachel Warren.

Half a degree difference

The researchers examined three scenarios: global warming of 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees and 3.2 degrees Celsius. We are currently approaching the latter value if all countries keep their promises made internationally with regard to CO2 emissions reduction.

According to the current process, around 49 percent of all insects, 44 percent of all plants and 26 percent of all vertebrates would lose half of their habitat by the year 2100. If global warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, it would still be 18%, 16% and 8%, respectively. And with a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, the number of affected species drops to 6% of insects, 4% of plants and 4% of vertebrates. In that case, most of the world's species would have been lucky.

"The current study confirms earlier findings that climate change threatens biodiversity," says Tiffany Knight from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research in Leipzig. "There is clear and unequivocal evidence that climate change has already affected the geographic distribution, abundance and migration patterns of species, threatening the planet's biodiversity."

But, she adds: "If we as a global community can meet or exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, then we can prevent some of the more dramatic losses that have been predicted that would have dire consequences for us humans."

Small changes in temperature have big effects on many species

The big winners

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would help insects in particular, as they are particularly hard hit by climate change, according to the study. "That's probably because insects are cold-blooded and can't control their body temperature," Warren speculates. In addition, many insect species cannot change their location if the climate changes. This applies, for example, to beetles that live in the ground.

Protecting insects from climate change is particularly important, emphasize the researchers: Insects are at the very front of the food chain and are therefore a source of food for many birds, reptiles and mammals. When the insects die, many other species die with them.

In the end, we too depend on the insects, not only because they pollinate flowers and are therefore essential for agriculture. A 2005 study estimated the economic value of pollination at 153 billion euros. "We found that pollinating insects in particular are sensitive to global warming," says Warren.

The black rhinoceros is particularly threatened by poaching.

Well worth the effort

Preserving biodiversity is worthwhile - and not just because of the pollinators. A species-rich ecosystem also ensures fertile soil, clean air and clean water, stresses Warren. But the researchers themselves admit that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will probably no longer succeed. It is all the more important to create spaces for species in good time so that they can adapt to climate change.

Larger nature reserves and walking corridors would be such a possibility. The pangolins, however, would probably no longer be of any use. Experts fear that the shy mammals could become extinct within the next ten years, even before researchers had a chance to study their behavior in more detail.

Stopping poachers and teaching the people in China that they should forego pangolin meat and medicine - this is initially more important for pangolin than climate protection. But Rachel Warren emphasizes that it is essential to think about climate protection at an early stage. "If we don't act in time, we'll face big problems later."

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    The saviors of the forests

    Almost a third of the primate species are threatened with extinction. So does the western lowland gorilla. The great apes are not only very similar to us; they also distribute seeds in the woods when they eat fruits. In doing so, they indirectly ensure that enough CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere - that is good for our climate.

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    More than honey producers

    When bees become extinct, it also affects humans. Because the hard-working insects pollinate around 80 percent of our crops. But pesticides and the loss of their natural habitat are causing problems for the bees. In Germany alone, the number of peoples has decreased from 2.5 million to less than a million.

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    Nectar and insects instead of blood

    Only one of over a hundred bat species feeds on blood. The others keep our insect population balanced and pollinate flowers. So we should make sure that they are not disturbed at work.

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    The harbingers of the ecosystem

    Frog skin is particularly permeable and therefore absorbs many substances. If frogs die, this is usually an indication that something is wrong in the ecosystem. Thanks to their good immune system, they also carry a number of potential active pharmaceutical ingredients.

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    Clearly underestimated

    Plankton may not be as lovable as a baby panda, but the tiny organisms feed billions of marine animals. At the same time, they provide around half of the world's oxygen content. Without plankton, no life would be possible - the panda finds it difficult to keep up.

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    The forest health police

    Ants loosen more soil than worms, so we have healthy soil for agriculture. They fight pests, spread seeds, eat carrion and serve as fodder for other forest animals. Real all-rounders.

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    Recycling specialists

    Fungi are responsible for enabling plants to draw nutrients and water from the soil. Without them, plants would not have landed on land 600 million years ago - and neither would animals of course. So without mushrooms we wouldn't exist at all.

    Author: Maike Verlaat