But it is not the last. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), climate change is currently a threat to nearly 12,000 species.
Those lucky enough to spot them will never forget the sight of these baby thumb-sized golden frogs emerging from the bushes in the Costa Rican jungle. For others, it’s too late. Small amphibians died.
For a few days each year, an army of these little patinas mysteriously appeared in the ponds of this tropical forest to breed.
says J. Alan Bounds, an ecologist at the Monteverde Biological Reserve in Costa Rica.
But this was before its disappearance, which was noticed in 1990. The Monteverde frog is the first known species whose extinction has been attributed to climate change. A few others joined him in the grave, and this was definitely just the beginning.
The first species to fall on the battlefield of climate change
Even if the world manages to limit warming to +1.5°C compared to pre-industrial times – the most ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement – 9% of the planet’s species could disappear, according to UN climate experts (IPCC).
The golden frog lived only in the forests of Monteverde. “About 99% of its population was lost in one year,” explains J. Alan Pounds, whose conclusions were validated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the effects of global warming published in February.
When the scientist arrived in Costa Rica in the early 1980s to study amphibians, climate change wasn’t a priority, but his breath was already being felt. After this forest disappeared from the golden frog and other amphibians, such as the Monteverde clown frog, researchers compared the evolution of the microclimate with the evolution of species groups.
They saw the cyclical effect of El Nino, as well as long-term trends related to climate change, with dips occurring after periods of unusually hot and dry periods. Mycosis fungoides also played a major role, for J. Alan Pounds and colleagues summing it up: It was the disease “bullet, climate change” that pulled the trigger.
“The #metoo movement of species”
The mechanism is repeated elsewhere. As for melomys rubicola, a small rodent that lives in small swamps off the coast of Australia and has not been seen since 2009. It was declared the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, which could not survive the inundation of its habitat. Extinct in 2016.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), climate change poses a threat to nearly 12,000 species, of which nearly 6,000 are at risk of extinction.
“It’s absolutely terrifying,” said Wendy Foden, a climate expert at the International Union for Conservation of Nature. “We need a #metoo movement for species.”
International negotiations are underway to come up with a treaty to better conserve nature, notably by protecting at least 30% of land and oceans by 2030. But with global warming, this classic protection is not enough, Wendy Foden stresses. “Even the most remote wilderness areas will be affected by climate change.”
In Monteverde, even the clouds have changed. Precipitation in this region has increased over the past 50 years but has become more variable, alternating between periods of rain and periods of very dryness, emphasizes J. Alan Pounds.
In the 1970s, this forest had an average of 25 dry days per year, compared to about 115 days in the past 10 years. And the fog that shrouded the forest to conserve moisture during the dry season, which gave this “cloud forest” its name, has shrunk by about 70%.
“It often looks more like a forest of dust than a forest of clouds,” Pounds laments.
As for the golden frog, a team of conservationists set out last year to track it back to its historic home in Costa Rica’s “Eternal Forest of Children” following rumors it had been spotted. But nothing. C says. Alan Pounds: “With each passing year it seems less and less likely that it will reappear.”