BY: Tasneem Johnson-Dollie
Disclaimer: Some of the images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.
We might all be familiar with climate change and how it affects people across the world. But what’s not as well known is how wildlife ecology can and does play a major role in addressing it.
When we look at species living in wild spaces, we can’t see every interaction that keeps the ecosystem balanced, or get a clear view of how a specific set of plants and animals survive in a given setting.
But this type of insight is essential. It’s key to gaining an all-round understanding of nature and the effects of climate change on ecosystems. It’s also the only way that we can design and implement effective interventions to address climate change.
Wildlife ecology is how we gain this type of understanding, and ecologists are at the forefront of addressing some of the biggest challenges to the world today. Here’s how.
What is wildlife ecology the study of?
Wildlife ecology is a science that’s been around for decades. It’s focus is on understanding the interactions between wild animals and their environments and its main aims include:
- growing the scientific knowledge base on wild animals
- advising wildlife management strategies
- managing interactions between wildlife populations and human populations.
So, when answering the question, “What is wildlife ecology the study of?” the answer isn’t as simple as, “the relationships between wild animals and their environment.” Wildlife ecology includes getting to know more about all the factors that feed into the survival of living things on Earth.
And, with a focus on gathering information that builds on the management of wild species, wildlife ecology is a field that holds tons of potential when it comes to addressing ecological issues, like species loss due to climate change.
What is climate change ecology?
Climate change ecology is a special branch of wildlife ecology that looks to understand how the effects of climate change influence living organisms.
It breaks down a complex ecological assessment into more easily digestible information. For starters, climate change ecology considers how the effects of climate change alter temperature and precipitation – and vice versa.
From this springboard, wildlife ecology specialists try to understand how these effects of climate change influence communities of plants, animals and people with regards to their:
With the effects of climate change having an impact the world over, and tons of different types of ecosystems making up Earth’s environments, getting to grips with climate change ecology is a complex undertaking.
Luckily, there are some straightforward ecology facts that can start us off on solid ground when it comes to understanding climate change.
Ecology facts on the effects of climate change
All Earth’s ecosystems are connected through the atmosphere (the layer of gases surrounding the Earth) and the hydrosphere (all the water found on the planet, which includes oceans, rivers, water vapour and ice).
One of the main causes of climate change is the overproduction of greenhouse gases – like carbon dioxide, methane and water vapour – which accumulate in the atmosphere. These gases are mainly produced through human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
Over time, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has jumped from a steady 280 parts per million to an excessive 400 parts per million. This increase coincides with the growing size of the global population as well as an upscaling in human activities that contribute to climate change.
Greenhouse gases are known to trap a significant amount of the sun’s heat in the atmosphere – heat that should have made its way back to space.
This trapped heat has slowly – but significantly – increased the temperature on Earth and influenced ecology in a number of ways.
Some of the most well-known effects of climate change are:
- an increase in the frequency and intensity of droughts, storms and heat waves
- the melting of glaciers and the warming of oceans
- the desertification of once arable land.
These environmental concerns have a significant effect on ecology because temperature and precipitation have an impact on the way wild animals live, grow and reproduce.
Why is wildlife ecology key in addressing climate change?
The world is linked in more ways than we can understand.
Today, ecological issues are not only commonplace but occurring in epic proportions. This means that viewing communities of plants, animals and people as separate entities would only set us back in gaining meaningful insight into how well Earth’s ecosystems are doing.
Wildlife ecology gives us a way to take a realistic and practical approach to understanding every ecosystem on Earth. It’s also an essential part in developing relevant efforts aimed at addressing the effects of climate change.
Wildlife ecology provides the theoretical framework for us to establish relationships between people, plants and animals that are beneficial and effective at addressing climate change.
If we don’t use wildlife ecology as a tool to understand and address climate change, even the highest calibre of scientist will be groping for solutions in the dark.
The best way to start making an impact in ecological restoration
With wildlife ecology and its specialisations – like climate change ecology – making up a vast field with a world’s worth of opportunities to contribute, you can easily find a focus you’re passionate about.
But gaining real-life experience and growing your competency in the field means that you’ll have to get involved in the best wildlife ecology opportunities out there.
Bushwise Field Guides offers a whole host of courses where you can gain hands-on or online experience in ecological restoration and climate change ecology, and build on your skills in wildlife ecology as you go.
Opportunities like our Wildlife Research Expedition, an internship based in the African savannah, make it easy to get a foot in the door of wildlife ecology and work alongside wildlife organisations and wildlife experts. And this is sure to build on your professional development and employability in the field.
Set off to become a wildlife ecology researcher in the savannah with Bushwise, find answers to the question, “What are the effects of climate change?” and add to efforts aimed at addressing climate change.