Snow-where to go: Alpine grasshoppers will be amongst first victims of climate change in Aoteaora, but not the last 

Steve Trewick

The 2022 Winter Olympic Games presented us with the sickening spectacle of  artificial snowfields produced using fossil energy because the use of fossil energy has resulted in global temperature rise that now inhibits the natural accumulation of snow.   A crushing display of human indifference and misguided priorities.

The inconvenient lack of snow on skifields has critical biodiversity and ecosystem implications for Earth. A new study reveals that anthropogenic climate change will result in at least a quarter of our alpine species becoming extinct in the next 50 years. Species that are already endangered and others that are currently widespread could lose all their current habitat in Aotearoa New Zealand due to anthropogenic global warming. The future distribution of 12 grasshopper species were inferred by projecting current niche models onto the predicted New Zealand climate with 1oC or 3.7oC warming. The conclusion was that most of these alpine species that occur nowhere else on the planet, would lose at least 30% of suitable habitat.

The earth has already heated 0.66 oC in just 20 years, the  1oC threshold will soon be passed, and the IPCC has now emphasised that chronic failure to meet promises could soon push planetary heating beyond control. In the mountains of New Zealand we can expect the green rock-hopper will be extinct within a matter of years and our other widespread flightless grasshopper species will have reduced and fragmented habitat.

Populations of alpine animals are restricted to high-elevation ‘islands’ and most cannot jump or fly the gap to unconnected mountain habitat. This means that as the Earth warms, alpine species will find their habitat dwindling. In Aotearoa New Zealand most of our alpine plants and animals are found nowhere else in the world, and the list is growing with six new species of alpine wētā just described. [Listen here] When their habitat shrinks, we are set to lose a quarter of all our endemic alpine biodiversity, and that is just the start.

The treeline on a mountainside shows the climatic limit of conditions suitable for tree growth. At higher elevation, day-night and seasonal temperature extremes and aridity prevent trees establishing. That leaves the space open for other types of plants and alpine animals that can survive and reproduce in the short alpine growing season and stay alive through the winter. But with a warmer planet the treeline will move up, squeezing out our alpine ecosystems.

A clear and present danger

The IPCC has released its latest damning report in which they identify systematic and widespread failure to fulfil existing GHG emission reduction pledges. Solutions now require drastic action to curb GHG production AND work to recapture CO2 released into the atmosphere. COVID and recent wildfires and floods will be as nothing if continue with business as usual (BAU). The failure of governments around the world is our failure. Our indifference allows politicians to side-line the solutions in favour of perceived business interests, which we can translate as short-term gain. Politicians must be shown that business as usual  is not an option and all aspects of our existence need to be refocused on the climate problem.

Indifference now denies us the right to complain when the problems hits us; and they will hit us as individuals not future generations. The problem and the solution is not somewhere else, or someone else it is here and it is YOU.

3 thoughts on “Snow-where to go: Alpine grasshoppers will be amongst first victims of climate change in Aoteaora, but not the last 

  1. Great article. Thanks for writing it. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time in the tussock on mountain tops i have appreciated seeing all the lovely creatures that make their life in this zone, We need to look after them.

  2. Another example of the fragility of ecosystems that are beautiful, so vulnerable, so threatened. Great, heart-rending article.
    Deeply appreciate people who care for all life forms, and are striving to exposing the dire mess humans have created and are trying so hard to ignore.

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