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Extreme weather creates growing problems for wildlife

Cara J

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When biologists think about climate change, they tend to look at slow, long-term changes that affect wildlife. What’s happening to alpine species as temperatures rise, or Arctic mammals as polar ice melts, or tropical birds as islands submerge? But these questions are only part of the puzzle. As climate change creates more and more extreme weather events, sudden changes are having a growing impact on wildlife, too. “Extreme events are impacting species across the world,” said Sean Maxwell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Green Fire Research Group at the University of Queensland in Australia and lead author of a study on extreme weather and wildlife in Diversity and Distributions. “These impacts are widespread, and in some cases, quite dramatic.” Maxwell and his team reviewed 519 studies of ecological responses to extreme events between 1941 and 2015. Their research included studies of amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, mammals, plants and reptiles and how they responded to a range of events, including cold waves, heat waves, droughts, floods and hurricanes. Researchers looked at impacts around the world, including floods that wiped out desert rodent populations in Arizona and prolonged droughts that affected amphibians in Yellowstone National Park and caused declines in the remaining [...]

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