Hidden effects of climate change on species revealed in new study

A new study by partners of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI), including the IUCN Global Species Programme (GSP), has revealed that climate change’s effects on species may be occurring through a disruption of the fundamental interactions that exist between species within an ecosystem.

Austroepigomphus turneri - endemic Australian dragonfly predicted to be highly threatened by climate change

The direct effects of climate change on a species’ population are well documented; changes in temperature and precipitation directly affect survival and reproduction. However, very little is known about the indirect effects of climate change on a species’ population, such as changes in food availability, competition or predation. The study has revealed that predatory species are likely to be most at risk from these altered relationships, for example; changes in snow cover in the Arctic have reduced lemming populations, and this is impacting populations of Arctic Fox (Alopex lagopus), and due to a warmer spring season, upland birds such as the Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) attempt to breed earlier, potentially missing out on the emergence of crane fly, an important prey item for developing chicks.

The study revealed a bias towards data from the northern hemisphere, highlighting a lack of research on the biotic (indirect) effects of climate change on species inhabiting tropical ecosystems. Most of the planet’s species occur in the tropics, including most species assessed as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, and the study calls for more studies of climate change impacts on populations inhabiting these regions. The study also revealed a lack of data on invertebrates and freshwater fish, and how climate change is affecting their populations and ultimately how this is affecting populations of other species within their respective ecosystems.

“This study highlights a need to consider the often complex ecological relationships between species when assessing the impacts of climate change on wildlife” says Jamie Carr of IUCN Global Species Programme, and co-author of the study. “Most research to date has focused on the direct impacts of changing conditions, which could mean that important emerging threats are being overlooked”.

Working in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, experts in the IUCN GSP and Species Survival Commission (SSC) are collecting information on a range of ecological traits that are believed to increase the susceptibility of invertebrates to climate change. A recent study into the projected impacts of climate change on Australian dragonflies by Alex Bush, a member of the IUCN SSC Dragonfly Specialist Group, found that some species may be highly threatened by climate change if they fail to disperse rapidly.

The study took 12 months to complete and involved seven organizations, led by the British Trust for Ornithology, reviewing more than 140 published studies on the climatic effects on species from across the globe.

For more information, please contact:
Jamie Carr, Climate Change Programme Officer – IUCN Global Species Programme; [email protected]


Work area: 
Climate Change
Red List
Climate Change
Biodiversity indicators
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