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Climate change: world’s lakes are in hot water – threatening rare wildlife

Climate change: world’s lakes are in hot water – threatening rare wildlife

The Earth’s surface is splotched with 117 million lakes. Some are scarcely more than ponds, while others are so big they can be seen from space. At 395 miles long, 49 miles wide and just over 1 mile deep, Lake Baikal in Siberia is one of the world’s largest and it’s home to 2,500 species, including the Baikal seal – Earth’s only species of freshwater seal.

Lakes and rivers occupy just 1% of the Earth’s surface but are incredible hotspots for biodiversity, sheltering 10% of all species globally. Particularly in older and deeper lakes, life has had millions of years to evolve and adapt to the peculiarities of that habitat, giving rise to unique forms. But since 1970, numbers of freshwater vertebrates, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, have declined by a staggering 83% through the extraction of lake water, pollution, invasive species and disease. Now, climate change threatens to drive even deeper losses.

Lake heatwaves – when surface water temperatures rise above their average for longer than five days – are a relatively new phenomenon. But by the end of this century, heatwaves could last between three and 12 times longer and become 0.3°C to 1.7°C hotter. In some places, particularly near the equator, lakes may enter a permanent heatwave state. Smaller lakes may shrink or disappear entirely, along with the wildlife they contain, while deeper lakes will face less intense but longer heatwaves.

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