CLIMATE CHANGE'S AFFECTS ON BIODIVERSITY
Climate change is a term we hear often but it has many definitions to many different people. While the media is usually referring to human induced climate change, there are two types of climate change: natural climate change and anthropogenic climate change.
“Anthropogenic climate change means man caused. This is our activities and how they impact the climate of the Earth,” says Ed McGinley, a natural sciences and marine biology professor at Flagler College. And, our activities such a commuting everyday and manufacturing pollution are slowly affecting how the Earth’s different ecosystems and food chains work.
Biodiversity is just one of the many things affected by climate change. According to Dr. Ed McGinley, biodiversity is “referring to the number of species in an area and how many of them there are. It really just depends on what environment you’re in because some areas are just naturally really biodiverse.” Examples of biodiverse locations are the Amazon Rainforest and wetlands right here in Florida.
McGinley says St. Augustine is already seeing the effects of climate change in it’s water temperatures and on its beaches with a species of mangroves that is native to more southern waters now appearing on our waterways.
“We’re in what’s called an ecotone which is an transition zone between two ecosystems. Here in St. Augustine, we generally have that smooth marsh grass. But now, we are seeing an increase in the types of mangroves along our waterways. We have red mangroves moving into the area and they are native to warmer climates more south. But what we actually see is the mangroves actually moving farther north now. Mangroves are typically a more southern tropical species and they can’t tolerate hard freezes but we haven't really had a good hard freeze here in awhile,” says McGinley.
Dr. McGinley is currently working with the Whitney Lab to figure out how the chemical signature of fish changes based on the vegetation they are living in.
“Right now, most of our areas are dominated with smooth marsh but we can absolutely see mangroves starting to take over and that is going to drastically alter the habitat,” says McGinley.
Not only does climate change affect species like mangroves, but it is also affected species like fish and where they travel to, causing a change in the food chain.
“Mangroves are causing some species to become extinct or extirpated from these areas because of species they feed on are moving to another area - causing changes in the food web. What goes where? Who eats who? There’s a lot that goes into it,” says McGinley.
Other than changes in food chains and how different vegetation affects sea life, climate change is also affecting the surface of our Earth in several ways.
“Sea level rise, ice loss and ocean acidification are other examples of how climate change is affecting our planet,” says Dr. Matt Brown, a natural science professor at Flagler College.
“There’s a phenomenon that taking place where there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the ocean causing ocean acidification, which makes it hard for organisms to get enough calcium carbonate to survive. Another side of this phenomenon is coral bleaching where the corals lose the plants that make them productive so they lose their energy source,” says Brown.
Ocean acidification also plays into biodiversity because without these coral reefs, our oceans will have one less ecosystem. Coral reefs are home to many types of sea life and the loss of them would change the ocean forever.
Ice melting is something that is concerning scientists as well. While the Earth has a natural pattern of ice ages and interglacial ages that happen over the span over hundred’s of thousands of years, the Earth is now warming over the span of a couple decades.
“The changes that were happening between the ice age and interglacial age were happening in the span of 50 to 100 thousand years from one ice age to the next, so these were very gradual time scales. It’s nothing to do with humans because climate change was happening before humans were wandering the planet,” says Brown. With all the CO2 being released into the atmosphere from cars and factories, humans are only making is easier for the planet to heat up.
“And now, fishermen are finding that a lot of commercially available fish species are moving farther north as the water warms and this is creating international tension,” says McGinley. “So what we’re seeing now are fleets having to change where they’re fishing and going into another country’s fishing territory.”
As times goes on, it’s hard to tell where the Earth’s climate will be and how the planet will be reacting to it. But, we can make a difference and make sure we are protecting the Earth as much as possible.
“It’s easy to get caught up and think the government’s not doing anything,” says McGinley, “All it takes is one person to talk to their family or friends to make a change.”