Off the southern tip of Florida lies a unique archipelago. The Florida Keys were created during the last period of global warming, as ice melted and sea levels rose.
This effectively cut the keys off from the larger landmass of North America. This led to the isolation of many species.
One of these species is the Key deer. This hoofed ruminant was isolated from their cousins who inhabited other areas.
Eventually, the Key deers, also known as toy deers, shrank and became its own diminutive species.
However, now they are being threatened by rising waters due to rapidly progressing climate change driven by human actions.
Key deer are already listed as federally endangered. It is estimated that less than 1,000 key deer are remaining in the wild. Weighing 75 pounds or less, key deer stand less than three feet tall.
Although they used to be widespread throughout the southern Florida Keys, their range is not limited to the area between Sugarloaf Key to Bahia Honda Key. After hunting and habitat loss threatened the deer in the 1950s, the National Key Deer Refuge was created.
It was one of the first wildlife refuges in the United States. For a time, this helped to preserve the unique Key deer. But now, encroaching waters threaten them again.
Driven by Climate change, rising ocean levels are threatening to destroy Key deers’ remaining habitat.
The Key deer will lose all of their habitats if the Florida Keys archipelago becomes submerged. Sadly, this is projected to happen relatively soon. Already, Florida Keys residents are beginning to feel the impacts of Climate change. It is projected that in a matter of decades, large parts of the keys will become uninhabitable due to rising oceans. This will also greatly reduce habitat for key deer. As the Florida keys disappear, so will the key deer.
This leaves scientists and conservationists struggling to protect the endangered species. Since the deer live solely in a habitat that is facing immediate threat, conservationists face limited options. To save key deer, they will most likely have to introduce them to a new area. However, they may then become an invasive species, threatening that area’s native ecosystem. Alternatively, they could be preserved in zoos as other nearly extinct species have been. Or, conservationists could resign themselves to the key deer’s fate and allow them to go extinct.
Around the world, an estimated 10,000 species are threatened by Climate change. For species that are native to only one area, such as the key deer, the future is especially grim. Significant destruction and alteration of habitat threaten the existence of these species. While conservationists are struggling to preserve them, it remains to be seen what long-term options will be viable to preserve Key deer and other endemic species.
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This article by Willow Lynn was first published by One Green Planet on 20 November 2023. Image Credit :moosehenderson/Shutterstock.