Ecosystems, Plants, Animals and Humans: Exploring the Effects of Climate Change
We want to help our children and young people better understand climate change, without increasing their feelings of climate anxiety.
That’s why we’ve put together a guide exploring the impact of climate change on ecosystems, plants, humans, and animals globally.
We hope this guide empowers children with the facts on the effects of climate change, while minimising any anxiety they may have. It’s also useful for parents and foster carers who are looking to brush up on their knowledge, too!
Biomes & Ecosystems
Around the world, there are many different types of biomes.
Biomes are large areas of land that each have their own climates, landscapes, plants, and animals. Different types of biomes are told apart by:
- How wet or dry they are
- How hot or cold they are
- How well things can grow there
These factors affect what kind of plants and animals can live in each biome. Different biomes might include rainforests, woodlands, grasslands, deserts, or tundra.
Each biome also has its own unique ecosystems. An ecosystem is the way living and non-living things interact with each other in nature. Living things, like plants, animals, and insects, interact with non-living things, like soil, water, and air. All these things rely on one another to sustain life.
However, because of climate change and greenhouse gases, the characteristics of biomes are changing. As the world gets warmer, so do biomes. Their weather is rapidly changing, making some biomes wetter than usual, and some biomes dryer.
In the tundra – some the coldest places on earth – ice is melting and changing the landscape. In rainforests, warmer temperatures and deforestation mean that trees cannot produce as much rain as they used to. Changes in temperature and moisture like these affect the ecosystems in each biome, making it harder to sustain life.
Each biome has a variety of different plants living in it. Some biomes have more plant varieties, and some have less. This all depends on the climate of each individual biome, and how well plants can grow there.
The plants that do live in each biome have adapted well to their environments. This means they can deal with the different temperatures and conditions.
In Grassland biomes, the plants growing there are adapted to deal with high levels of wind and dry soil. Meanwhile, in Tropical Rain Forest biomes, plants have adapted to warm, dark and very wet conditions, such as growing pointy tips or larger roots.
Adaptation takes many years, and, unlike animals or humans, plants cannot move to find a new environment that suits them better. They are rooted down, and rely on air, water, and animals to disperse their seeds.
So, when the conditions of a biome change due to global warming, plants can suffer. Some plant species can tolerate changes in environment, while other plants can go extinct if there are too many changes in temperature, water and sunlight.
There are also hundreds of animals and plants living in each biome. Each animal has evolved over time to be able to survive in the conditions of their biome.
In the tundra, polar bears’ white appearance and thick layers of fat and fur help to camouflage them and protect them from the cold. In contrast, camels living in desert habitats grow large humps of fat on their back that provide them with energy when they cannot access water or food.
Like with plants, changes in climate affect the way animals survive in their biomes. If plants struggle to grow due to changes to their environment, then animals may not have enough to eat. They may also not have enough vegetation to build homes or nests, meaning they cannot reproduce safely. Changes in temperature might also mean that some animals are waking from hibernation sooner than they usually do.
Unlike plants, some animals can migrate or move to new habitats that better suit their living needs. However, this is not always possible, and many animals who cannot migrate might go hungry, or even extinct.
Unfortunately, scientists believe that humans are the main cause of climate change.
Our activity over the last few hundred years has caused a rise in greenhouse gas emissions, which heat up the earth’s atmosphere. Not only do the effects of climate change have an impact on animals, plants, and ecosystems – they also have an impact on humans too.
While we might find it easier to adapt to changes in climate and heat waves –we can wear thinner clothes when it’s warmer – we are also at risk. Because of climate change, new human health risks and diseases will steadily emerge as time goes on.
The health effects of climate change could include more infectious viruses and diseases, as well as injuries and/or deaths related to extreme weather events. Changes in food availability (because of plants not being able to grow) will also likely affect humans in the future.
How Humans Can Help
When it comes to climate change, while it might seem scary, not all is lost!
There is still plenty that humans can do to help reverse the effects of climate change. If we act soon, we can preserve the environment for ecosystems, plants, animals, and humans.
Humans can relocate plants and animals that are struggling in their environments, moving them to areas that are better suited for their needs. This helps to keep plant and animal species from dying out and becoming extinct but is not a permanent solution.
Another way that humans can help climate change is by preserving natural environments. For example, conserving a forest might involve making sure that a limited number of trees can be cut down per year. Or, making sure that humans are not allowed to interfere with certain parts (or all) of the forest.
One of the ways you and your family can help climate change at home is by being more eco-conscious in your choices. This might include using a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic water bottle or walking or cycling instead of driving to places. You might also wish to volunteer for or donate to some climate-change charities.
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