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Does Climate Change Really Impact Biodiversity?

When you start a discussion about biodiversity, the topic of climate change will inevitably come up, and pretty quickly. That’s not a coincidence – by now it’s widely recognised and accepted that biodiversity and climate change are heavily interconnected. You really can’t address one without considering the other. As a team of ecologists, environmental scientists and geographers, we understand the importance of protecting and preserving the biodiversity of the planet. So for us, the question becomes how can we fight climate change by encouraging and protecting local biodiversity, and help our customers do the same?

What’s the Link?

On the face of it, climate change and biodiversity may have a slight link. But the more research has been done into the interconnectivity of the two issues, the more scientists have been forced to admit that you can’t tackle one without the other. The environmental changes and disturbances to habitats and species is now too much to ignore, and the effects of climate change – such as rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, more frequent extreme weather events and an increase in acidity in the oceans – are putting biodiversity around the world in danger.

The Impact of Climate Change on Local Habitat

When examining the impact of climate change, the biggest area of focus is undoubtedly on habitat damage and destruction. Even the smallest changes in climate can wreak havoc with local wildlife, from disturbing their feeding patterns to destroying their habitat and driving them to new areas they aren’t built for. Here are just a few examples of the ways climate change is impacting biodiversity through the destruction of local habitats:

Extreme weather: Over the last few decades there has been a significant increase in the number of natural disasters and extreme weather events across the world. For example, North America is currently seeing a record number of forest fires in 2022 that it’s already hit a ten-year high, and Europe has seen so many fires in the first 8 months of 2022 that it’s 4 times the 15-year average. Average temperatures are now so high that forest and scrubland is becoming dry and damaged, only needing a spark to ignite.

Rising temperatures: Local ecosystems developed to thrive in their previously stable temperature ranges, with all wildlife and vegetation working in a rhythm of sorts. But so many plants’ life and growth cycles are determined by sunlight and temperature that they don’t know what’s happening. Plants that were once plentiful are now unable to grow, and flowers that pollinated at specific times are now dispersing pollen at the wrong times, missing their pollination windows. Even ocean species like coral are being affected, with reefs burned and bleached for miles.

Reduced water vapour: Along with rising temperature comes a reduction in water vapour in the air and ground. This means that 59% of vegetated areas on the planet are now showing pronounced browning and reduced growth rates, which can have a knock-on effect for millions of species relying on grasslands.

Ocean acidification: The chemical balance of the ocean has also been shifting, becoming more acidic every single year. This means some species of shellfish struggle to form hard shells, corals can’t form their hard skeletons, and many species of fish and amphibians are dying out thanks to the lack of oxygenating plants that can survive in more acidic waters.

Could Protecting Biodiversity Battle Climate Change?

The good news is, there could be a way to combat both issues at the same time. Over the last few years, there has been a huge amount of research done on the Natura 2000 areas of the EU, studying the different approaches that could be taken to reduce the impact of climate change and protect local biodiversity. They found that actively protecting and nurturing biodiversity in local ecosystems could actually help them adapt to climate change. This is because healthier ecosystems are more resilient to change, giving them time to evolve to meet the new challenges climate change brings.

Not only that, but human involvement in protecting local biodiversity could actually make this adaptability even more successful. Because we understand the problems the environment faces on every part of the scale, we can support ecosystems in developing natural solutions. For example, healthy ecosystems can help absorb excess floodwaters, provide buffers against coastal erosion and provide natural stores for carbon – therefore limiting the concentrations of greenhouse gasses being emitted into the atmosphere.

By working with nature, rather than against it, through biodiversity work, we could build strong and effective climate change mitigation strategies that can really work. We have worked with Defra researching Ecosystem Services on just this, and have worked with governments in highly climate sensitive areas such as the Caribbean and the Mediterranean helping to inform climate adaptation strategies and reporting to  the United Nations Federation Convention on Climate Change.

Our studies, and the mounting world evidence,  have shown that all of this means that it’s even more important now for land management and new developments to complete biodiversity surveys and commit to meaningful enhancement and planning before they begin working. More and more natural resources are coming under attack thanks to the effects of climate change, and it’s up to us to ensure we manage our ecological footprint, protect wildlife and safeguard natural resources. At Engain we work with governments, investors, land owners, charitable trusts, and developers to support you in minimizing environmental impact and adding biodiversity gains where possible. If you would like to know more, get in touch with the team today to book your free initial consultation.

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