The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By Tim Radford
The herbivorous marsupial (Phascolarctos cinereus), unique to the world's largest island, is rarely seen. It moves slowly, lives high in the canopy on a diet of eucalyptus leaves, sleeps for up to 20 hours a day and yet is known to billions worldwide as the model for a cuddly toy loved by children.
Its demands are few: a supply of fresh eucalyptus foliage, a little water to drink and somewhere quiet to flourish. But a new study in Global Change Biology suggests that by 2070 much of its native homeland won't provide what it takes to make a home any more.
Natalie Briscoe, an ecologist at the University of Melbourne and colleagues used everything they knew about koalas—behavior, body size, fur depth and physiology—to predict how much energy and water koalas would need to survive at any location. They made the assumption that eucalyptus trees would be available everywhere.
Then they used their knowledge of the animal to make a map of potential koala habitat 60 years from now. And they found the animal's potential range dramatically smaller.
The problem lies not in inexorable global warming—average planetary atmospheric temperatures have risen by 1 C in the last century and the world has pledged to keep the overall rise to lower than 2 C— but in the frequency of extremes of heat and drought. And in a land of extremes, more extremes are on the way.
Dr. Briscoe said:
“Studies of climate change impacts on wildlife have often focused on how changes in average temperature or rainfall will affect species, but our research highlights the importance of thinking about the extreme conditions that will be most stressful for the animals—such as hot, dry periods—and how these may change in the future.
“By developing a better understanding of what controls species distributions now, we are much better placed to forecast how these may shift in the future."
The researchers also correlated all the known koala locations and then matched that data with climate records from the recent past—another way of helping understand what climate change can do to wildlife. Both models predicted that the animal would suffer in the hotter, drier parts of its range.
The summer of 2013 broke all records for temperature extremes in Australia and researchers expect rainfall patterns to be disrupted and heatwaves and droughts to grow in number and intensity with time.
The challenge for conservationists is to identify those regions where the koala is more likely to survive. Ecologists call these places refugia: in times of stress, a species retreats to a limited range and expands when conditions improve.
“There is a lot of uncertainty when predicting the impacts of climate change on species, particularly when climate change leads to novel weather patterns," Dr. Briscoe said.
“Comparing predictions from different models allows us to more confidently predict the location of havens where koalas could survive in the future."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Derrick Z. Jackson
As much as hurricanes Katrina and Maria upended African American and Latinx families, the landfall of the coronavirus brings a gale of another order. This Category 5 of infectious disease packs the power to level communities already battered from environmental, economic, and health injustice. If response and relief efforts fail to adequately factor in existing disparities, the current pandemic threatens a knockout punch to the American Dream.
'We Need People's Bailout, Not Polluters' Bailout': Climate Groups Move to Preempt Big Oil Giveaway Amid Pandemic
By Andrea Germanos
A coalition of climate organizations strongly criticized President Donald Trump's in-person Friday meeting with the chief executives of some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, saying the industry that fueled climate disaster must not be allowed to profiteer from government giveaways by getting bailout funds or preferred treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.
An Important Note
No supplement, diet, or lifestyle modification — aside from social distancing and practicing proper hygiene — can protect you from developing COVID-19.
The strategies outlined below may boost your immune health, but they don't protect specifically against COVID-19.
By Zak Smith
It is pretty amazing that in this moment when the COVID-19 outbreak has much of the country holed up in their homes binging Netflix, the most watched show in America over the last few weeks has been focused on wildlife trade — which scientists believe is the source of the COVID-19 pandemic. Make no mistake: Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is about wildlife trade and other aspects of wildlife exploitation, just as surely as the appearance of Ebola, SARS, MERS, avian flu and probably COVID-19 in humans is a result of wildlife exploitation. As a conservationist, this is one of the things I've been thinking about while watching Tiger King. Here are five more:
By Hector Chapa
With the coronavirus pandemic quickly spreading, U.S. health officials have changed their advice on face masks and now recommend people wear cloth masks in public areas where social distancing can be difficult, such as grocery stores.
But can these masks be effective?