Wildlife Wednesdays: Effects from Heat Waves | weatherology°
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By: Meteorologist Megan Mulford
Updated: Jul 8th 2020

Wildlife Wednesdays: Effects from Heat Waves

Climate change will bring more frequent and severe heat waves across the globe. In the United States alone, extremely hot summer days are projected for every part of the country, affecting more than 30 large cities. Climate models have already indicated that an average summer in 2050 will have even more days with temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit if we continue this path. Scientists say that if nothing is done to combat climate change and our warming temperatures, then we will see more extreme heat waves.

Heat waves affect not only humans, but also wildlife. They cause warmer waters, which contributes to algae bloom. This takes away oxygen and increases growth of parasites, which ends up killing the fish. At the same time, warmer waters reek havoc on cold water fish, who can't survive in streams and lakes over a certain temperature. Federal scientists predict that more than half of the wild trout who need cooler water to live are vulnerable to climate change. When there is a prolonged heat wave, streams and lakes dry up from the hot temps. This causes a lack of drinking water, leading to dehydration of animals or conflicts between animals trying to fight for the same water. Also, this drying of rivers and streams leads to massive death in fish, causing animals that rely on fish for food to starve and possibly perish. 

Heat waves lead to less precipitation, which leads into an increase in wildfires. Wildfires then eliminate food and cover for prairie species, as well as birds whose habitats are in trees. Continued warming will cause forest distribution to change drastically. Less grass means less prairie dogs, which is food for Black-Footed Ferrets, according to Travis Liviere of Prairie Wildlife Research. 

In Australia, the past decade has shown that Lemuroid Ringtail Possum have declined in the northern mountain ranges from heat waves, which have increased in intensity and length over the past 50 years. In the summer of 2005, maximum temperatures went over the physiological tolerance of possum for 27 days in a row. The possum couldn't escape, and therefore, died.

By the middle of the century, if nothing is done to prevent climate change, scientists say to expect about 20 record highs for every record low. In parts of the South, days above 95 degrees Fahrenheit could triple to over 75 days per year!

Climate change will be an issue for trout who need cooler waters to live.
Black -Footed Ferret
Climate change will cause more wildfires, which will impact prairie animals.
Lemuroid Ringtail Possum
Lemuroid Ringtail Possum have already declined in Australia over the past decade due to climate change.