Heatwave Impact on Wildlife

By Ian Teñido

Australia horse deaths: Wild animals perish at dried-up waterhole- BBC News, 2019

Climate change is one of the threats for wildlife species around the globe. When exposed to extremely high temperatures, animals struggle to lose excess heat through evaporation. As a result, an imbalance between metabolic heat production inside the animal body and its dissipation eventually leads to heat stress. Heatwaves around the world have had a great impact on wildlife eventually leading to the death of scores of animals (Frölicher & Laufkötter, 2018). Cases have been reported around the globe of the reduction in the number of wildlife in the world to the point of some becoming extinct. This article focuses on the death of wildlife across the globe due to heat.

Flying foxes, type of fruit-eating bats, continue to die in Australia due to excess heat exposure. The temperature rises to about 42 degrees Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit) was experienced in 2018. The flying foxes tried to control the heat by fanning their wings, panting and spreading saliva across their bodies but to no avail. After a body count, conducted by wildlife volunteers, soon after the heatwave indicated that about a third and ten thousand black flying foxes died. They fell to the ground dead from their accustomed shady forest understories while many of them ended up in rehabilitation centers (McMichael, Edson, McLaughlin, Mayer, Kopp, Meers & Field, 2015). Flying foxes have declined by 70 percent over the past fifteen years. The surviving females can only give birth once they are a year old and can only deliver one pup a year.

Meanwhile, water-based species such as Murray cod, silver perch, golden perch, and bony herring have also died in Australian Rivers due to the extreme weather conditions. When Australia faced drought, water levels decreased resulting in a heat up. Consequently, cyanobacteria blossomed in the water depleting dissolved oxygen in water leading to the death of fish after a short while (Frölicher & Laufkötter, 2018). The Australian government set up a plan to deploy water aerators in the drought-stricken waterways. The government hoped to increase oxygen levels in the water thus reducing the death of the fish. However, this was only a short-term solution since they needed to revert to the original river flow to bring an end to the calamity.

The new marine heatwave off the West Coast stands out in this map of sea surface temperature anomalies, with darker red denoting temperatures farther above average. The highest temperatures shown are more than 5 degrees Fahrenheit above average. Image from NOAA Coral Reef Watch, which corrects effectively for cloud cover. – NOAA Fisheries, 2019

Heatwaves have resulted in the widespread death of other animals such as big-eyed tarsiers. Domestic animals have not been spared in the effects of heatwaves across the globe either. There are effects felt by the farmers such as a reduction in yield production. Different species such as Kangaroo, water bear, and the Sahara Desert ants can tolerate high temperatures but with a limit (McMichael, et al., 2015). Heatwaves have produced striking images of increased mortality in animals; corals bleaching and death of horses during Australian summers. In essence, human beings need to protect and preserve the ecosystem as a method reverting the rampant climate change being experienced in many parts of the world.

In conclusion, climate change has adverse effects on wildlife in this world. Death of the animals and reduction of produce are some of the impact heatwaves have on animals. Cases of deaths of wild animals have been reported in various parts of the world. Australia, for instance, experienced the death of a third of flying foxes due to the heatwave experienced in 2018. Besides, water-based animals such as fish have died as a result of the heatwave. Other animals such as horses have died in Australia and other parts of the world. Human beings need to protect the ecosystem as a way of controlling climate change and reducing the excessive heatwaves experienced in the world today.



  • Frölicher, T. L., & Laufkötter, C. (2018). Emerging risks from marine heat waves. Nature communications9(1), 650.
  • McMichael, L., Edson, D., McLaughlin, A., Mayer, D., Kopp, S., Meers, J., & Field, H. (2015). Haematology and plasma biochemistry of wild black flying-foxes,(Pteropus alecto) in Queensland, Australia. PloS one10(5), e0125741.

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