Thousands of Species Under Threat from More Intense, Frequent Wildfires, Study Shows

25 November 2020

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GLOBAL – More frequent and more intense wildfires are threatening thousands of species of plants and animals from Australia to South America to the Arctic Circle, according to new research.

“Those species include 19% of birds, 16% of mammals, 17% of dragonflies and 19% of legumes that are classified as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable,” Luke Kelly, lead author of the study and professor at Australia’s University of Melbourne, said in a news release. “That’s a massive number of plants and animals facing threats associated with fire.”

In all, the study published Friday in the journal Science concluded that more than 4,400 species were under threat from changing fire activity, including orangutans in Indonesia the mallee emu-wren in Australia.

(MORE: California Wildfire Risk Could Leave Tens of Thousands Without Electricity for Thanksgiving)

The researchers listed global climate change, land policies and invasions by non-native species as the factors causing fires to become more intense and more frequent. In particular, several studies have linked warmer global temperatures to drought, heat waves and wildfires.

In late 2019 and early 2020, ferocious wildfires burned more than 40,000 square miles of land in Australia. At least 33 people were killed and 3,000 homes destroyed. The blazes were fueled by drought, record heat and high winds, prompting experts around the world to point to climate change as a contributing factor.

Millions of animals may have died, according to some estimates, leaving already threatened species on the brink of extinction. The fires left koalas and other species facing a critical loss of habitat in areas where the forest burned.

“Our research highlights the magnitude of the challenge fire poses to animals, plants and people, given worsening climatic conditions,” Michael Clarke, Professor of Zoology at La Trobe University in Australia, said in the news release.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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