Challenges to “Building a Shared Future for All Life”

The slogan for International Day for Biological Diversity, “Building a Shared Future for all Life” aims to highlight the importance of biodiversity for many of the challenges to achieve sustainable development. The underlying message is that ecosystem-based approaches and nature-based solutions are the key to address climate change, health issues, food and water security and sustainable livelihoods, thus recognizing biodiversity as the foundation upon which we can ‘build back better’ in the aftermath of pandemic. This photo blog is a personal journal of challenges to this vision of a “Shared Future” from the frontiers of anthropogenic changes.

1) The Greater One-horned Rhinoceros thrives in the grasslands sustained by abundant rainfall during the annual monsoons. Changes in the precipitation patterns can deplete these floodplain grasslands resulting in food security issues and increased vulnerabilities to straying, conflict and poaching.

Image: Greater One-horned Rhinoceros with calf, Assam, 2021 (Courtesy: Author)

2) The documented depletion of insects worldwide is likely to have a cascading impact on pollination of fruits and wild bird populations. Reclusive tropical forest dwellers like the trogons, which feed on insects and fruits are among the species that may be threatened in their limited ranges.

Image: Ward’s Trogon, Mishmi Hills, 2015 (Courtesy: Author)

3) Changes in precipitation patterns are also likely to alter the nature of some remaining tiger habitats in India; deficit in soil moisture will increase tree mortality in the deciduous forest habitat and trigger a shift toward open tropical dry forests. The result of these changes means that apex predators like the tiger will experience lack of suitable alternative habitats.

Image: Royal Bengal Tiger, Pench NP, 2016 (courtesy: author)

4) Elephants need huge amounts of freshwater, and accessibility to it has a direct influence on their daily activities, reproduction, and migration. All elephants are very sensitive to high temperatures, and extreme heat leaves them susceptible to disease.

Image: African Elephant, Pilanesberg National Park, 2019 (Courtesy: Author)

5) The “Silent Extinction” of giraffes has seen a 40 percent drop in populations in just 30 years, with less than 100,000 left in the wild. Fragmentation of the habitat due to expansion of farming and land-use change attributed to a growing human population is to blame.

Image: Giraffe, Bela Bela, 2019 (Courtesy: Author)

6) The Allen’s Hummingbird is projected to undergo a 90% decrease in breeding range by 2080 owing to climate change, while only 7% of its present range is projected to remain suitable.

Image: Allen’s Hummingbird, California, 2014 (Courtesy: Author)

7) Polar bears rely largely on seals for sustenance and with the continuing loss of sea ice, along with additional stressors like low genetic diversity, human habitation, industrial activities, toxic substances in their food web, and reduced populations of potential prey, these bears are likely to completely disappear from the southern Arctic ranges within thirty to forty years, and some studies predict that two-thirds of the global population will be completely wiped out by mid-century. These marine mammals are among the worst affected by climate change, with the land literally melting beneath their paws.

Image: Polar Bear, Churchill, 2015 (Courtesy: Author)

8) Species are shifting range away from the tropics and towards the poles. The Grey Jay has shifted its range northwards by an average of 18.5 km in 26 years. Its habit of hoarding is linked to reduced breeding success, with warmer seasons causing increased loss of hoarded food.

Image: Grey Jay, Manitoba, 2015 (Courtesy: Author)

9) The fate of the iconic Beluga Whales is connected to sea ice in more ways than one. With large parts of the Arctic remaining ice-free for longer periods, there have been increased reports of killer whale sightings, making the slow-moving Belugas vulnerable to predation. With the sea ice becoming increasingly unstable, chances of their being trapped has also increased. The same ice also provides protection from predators and decline of sea ice is advantageous for predators.

Image: Beluga Whales, Hudson Bay, 2015 (Courtesy: Author)

10) The Svalbard Reindeer were almost hunted to extinction in the early 1900s, but having recovered, they face a new existential threat, with mass deaths reported due to starvation. The Svalbard archipelago is the fastest warming region of the world, where they have lived wild and free for nearly 5000 years. Increased rainfall in the Arctic is bad news for these herbivores adapted to digging through the soft snow to find nourishment and they starve when the rain freezes into hard ice.

Image: Svalbard Reindeer, Longyearbyen, 2019 (Courtesy: Author)

11) Arctic seabirds including black guillemots have also had to adjust their hunting grounds dramatically as a result of rising temperatures and melting sea ice, and the impact these environmental changes have had on the fish that the birds feed upon, both in the Arctic and beyond.

Image: Black Guillemot, High Arctic, 2019 (Courtesy: Author)

12) The iconic tuskers of the North polar region are feeling the heat as the Arctic is warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world. A decrease is food availability is expected with documented declines among clam populations that are critical prey for walruses, associated with reductions in sea ice declines. Additionally, ocean acidification reduces the saturation state of carbonate ions in the water, which can affect the growth, development and survival of calcifying invertebrates that are the major prey of walruses.

Image: Walrus, Spitsbergen, 2019 (Courtesy: Author)

13) Populations of the Chinstrap Penguins, the ‘Canaries of the Southern Ocean” have collapsed dramatically in some surveyed colonies, with researchers pointing to a disruption of the food system caused by warming waters and ocean acidification.

Image: Chinstrap, Antarctica, 2013 (Courtesy: Author)

14) Some species are benefited from the reduction in sea ice. Gentoo penguin populations, which have a more flexible diet than other penguin species, have increased in recent decades.

Image: Gentoo, Antarctica, 2013 (Courtesy: Author)

15) Similarly, studies have found an increase in the number of Southern Elephant Seal pups with the decrease in sea ice. The largest of the pinnipeds had colonized areas thousands of miles south during an earlier period of warming about 7,500 years ago and returned north when the open waters froze after a few thousand years. Incidentally, some scientists are attaching tiny sensors to the heads of these deep-diving seals so they can learn more about Antarctic warming from warm waters below the surface.

Image: Southern Elephant Seal, Antarctica, 2013 (Courtesy: Author)

About the Author:

Rituraj Phukan is an environmental writer, adventurer & naturalist based out of Assam. He serves as the National Coordinator for Biodiversity, Climate Reality India and is a member of the IUCN.

Photo credits: Author

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The Climate Reality Project India, actively engages igniting the spark and spreading the message of #climatechange amongst educators and civil society.

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