The dodo (Raphus cucullatus) is an extinct species of bird that once lived on Mauritius island off the coast of Madagascar. Dodos have become a symbol of human-caused extinction. The dodo is also the centerpiece of a new exhibit at Flamingo Gardens highlighting the impact of Climate Change on wildlife. Sean Kenney’s Nature POP®! exhibit of 44 sculptures made from more than 800,000 LEGO® bricks consider the interconnectedness of nature and climate change through the highly stylized, colorful displays.
The dodo was a flightless relative of pigeons and doves, which once inhabited the islands of Mauritius and Reunion. Their large size and inability to fly were adaptations that contributed to their survival among the island’s adverse conditions and climate change events, including extreme drought and volcanic eruptions. These adaptations, however, became a hindrance when the Dutch colonized the islands in the 1600s. Mauritius and its neighboring islands harbored no permanent human population before the Dutch East India Company established a settlement there in the 1600s. By then, previous visitors to the island had already introduced so many predators that dodos no longer roamed the beaches and mountains. Later, deforestation removed much of the dodo’s woodland habitat. By the end of the 17th century, the dodo was extinct.
Estimates show that by 2100, up to 14% of all bird species across the globe could be extinct, given the momentum of climate change, widespread habitat loss, and an increasing number of invasive species.
It’s not just birds that will be affected. Biologists are becoming more and more concerned that global climate change will drastically reduce wildlife biodiversity. Some biologists estimate that 35% of animals and plants could become extinct in the wild by 2050 due to global climate change.
To date, global warming has been most pronounced in the Artic, and this trend is projected to continue. Temperatures in the Arctic are rising nearly four times as fast as the global average, and Arctic Sea ice extent has declined since 1979 for every month of each year. There are suggestions that before mid-century we could have a nearly ice-free Artic in the summer and two-thirds of the world’s polar bears could be extinct if greenhouse gas-fueled global warming keeps melting their Arctic Sea ice habitat.
A recent two-year drought in Kenya has wiped out 2% of the world’s rarest zebra species as the climate crisis continues to take its toll on Africa’s wildlife. The Grévy’s zebra is in rapid decline, with estimates that their population has decreased by 50% over the last 18 years, attributed in part to having one of the most substantial reductions of range of any African mammal. Once found roaming across Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Somalia, the animal is now confined to Ethiopia and Kenya, with an estimated 1,966 to 2,447 left in the wild. The biggest threat to zebra populations are habitat loss and drought. Increasing temperatures and changes to the rainy seasons mean lack of water for zebras, forcing them to congregate at the remaining water sources where there is an increased chance of disease.
Most of the time when we think about climate change, we think about warming temperatures. However, rainfall patterns will change as well, which is something that insects seem to be especially sensitive to. Rainfall extremes can have negative effects on insect populations over very short timescales.
Insects are incredibly diverse and important, filling the ecosystem roles of pollination and decomposition, and as a food source for many birds and mammals. Spiders eat an astronomical number of insects, many of which are agricultural pests or the carriers of human diseases. Their loss will become ours as it impacts future ecosystems.
Several traits make the monarch vulnerable to a changing climate. Like most butterflies, they are extremely sensitive to weather and climate, depending on environmental cues (temperature in particular) to trigger reproduction, migration, and hibernation. Their dependence on milkweed alone as a host plant is a further vulnerability, particularly as milkweed abundance is declining throughout the monarch range.
The bald eagle is a resilient species, and often held up as a symbol for conservation success. But as the climate changes, they too face new challenges. Extreme temperatures cause drought which threatens bodies of water that eagles depend on. Stream temperatures have spiked in recent years as glaciers retreat and provide less cool water, affecting cold-water species like salmon that bald eagles rely on for food. Climate change has also led to heavier river flows and floods in late fall, washing dead salmon out to sea before they can be eaten by eagles.
Global warming also brings extreme weather and damaging winds that can endanger nests and baby birds, and in the south, extreme heat which could threaten the bird’s ability to reproduce. Taking all these factors into account, the Audubon Society predicts that three quarters of the bald eagles’ current summer range will become unsuitable for the birds in 60 years’ time.
Sculptures featured in Sean Kenney’s Nature Pop®! exhibit include a polar bear, zebra, lion, snow leopard, rabbits, dragon flies, and many more. Nature Pop®! hopes to engage young brick-building enthusiasts and inspire acts of art, preservation, and conservation while educating the public about Climate Change and its impact on global wildlife.
Sean Kenney’s Nature Pop®! is on display at Flamingo Gardens May 27 to September 4, 2023. Tickets are included with the price of admission. For more information, visit www.FlamingoGardens.org or call 954-473-2955.