Current Impact Of Climate Change On Threatened Species Hugely Underestimated


Katy Evans

Katy is Managing Editor at IFLScience where she oversees editorial content from News articles to Features, and even occasionally writes some.

Managing Editor

Mountain gorillas are among the species the researchers found already being impacted by climate change. Simon Eeman/Shutterstock

We already know that if we can’t curb man-made climate change, it will have a major negative impact on the future of vulnerable species. A new study, however, has found that the effects of climate change on threatened species has been greatly underestimated. 

An international team of researchers analyzed 130 studies on threatened and endangered species published between 1990 and 2015 and found that nearly half of mammals and a quarter of birds listed on the IUCN red list are negatively impacted by climate change.


It had previously been thought that only 7 percent of listed mammals and 4 percent of birds had been impacted so far. But the new results have shown evidence of observed responses to recent climate change in almost 700 species.

Professor James Watson of the University of Queensland said that their analysis, which is published in Nature Climate Change, was the most comprehensive assessment to date on how climate change has affected already well-studied species and their main discovery was that “there has been a massive under-reporting of these impacts.”

"The results suggested it is likely that around half the threatened mammals (out of 873 species) and 23 percent of threatened birds (out of 1,272 species) have already responded negatively to climate change," he explained in a statement.

The worry from this report is not just that the most well-studied threatened and endangered species are more negatively affected by climate change than anybody had realized, but that this applies to less studied and reported species too. This study only looked at animals and birds, so fish, reptiles, amphibians, and plants all need to be taken into consideration too.


Talking to The Guardian, Watson explained that many assessments of red-listed species had assumed hunting, deforestation, and loss of habitat as greater, and more immediate, threats than climate change. Not only that, but too many scientific papers on climate change and species focused on projections 50 to 100 years in the future, not what is happening now.

The authors of the study urge policymakers, conservation managers, and planners to take this into account and act now, improving assessment on all species before it is too late.   

“We need to communicate the impacts of climate change to the wider public and we need to ensure key decision-makers know significant change needs to happen now to stop species going extinct,” Watson said. “Climate change is not a future threat anymore.”


  • tag
  • climate change,

  • biodiversity,

  • iucn red list,

  • conservation,

  • endangered species,

  • impact,

  • policy