Maintaining Biodiversity

Climate Implications - Maintaining Biodiversity

Biodiversity is defined as the variety of life within an ecosystem or region. Many species depend on specific ecosystems for survival. Climate change can overwhelm the capacity of an ecosystem to withstand extreme weather events, such as flooding, fires, droughts, and storms. Some species’ natural ecosystems are already being threatened by land conversion and development, and as climate-enhanced disturbances become more frequent, intense, and unpredictable, species diversity around the globe, and in the Midwest, is declining.  Climate change is already affecting water temperatures, weather, flooding, and drought – all of which can have significant and deadly impacts on native wildlife.

Climate change also alters the non-living conditions of an ecosystem, such as temperature, rainfall, humidity, and wind. When an ecosystem’s conditions change, species may no longer be suited for the environment and be forced to relocate or be pushed to extinction. The migration, adaptation, or loss of one species can have compounding effects on the ranges of other species, ecosystem functions, and the food web.

Not only has the Midwest seen a steady increase in average temperature, but the annual number of extreme heat days is also rising, and the length of the frost season has shortened. These changes are creating favorable conditions for invasive and undesirable species that can choke out native plants and animals that might be less adaptable. 

The Midwest depends on diverse life to maintain clean waters, control flooding, and pollinate crops. Climate change endangers vital ecosystems and threatens the biodiversity of Midwestern native species. Increased water temperatures can cause lake stratification (the way water temperature is distributed at different lake depths), which reduces oxygen and nutrient content for fish and other aquatic species. Increased summer evaporation rates can further concentrate pollution runoff into lakes and streams. Grasslands and tallgrass prairies in the Midwest are diminishing and fragmenting, largely driven by increased heat and evaporation. Certain species, such as the rusty-patched bumblebee, which were once abundant across the Midwest, are now endangered due to habitat loss.