Saving wildlife in a warmer world
A warmer world will have adverse effects on wildlife. We can help save animals, but it will take savvier approaches, scientists say.
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“When they hear a gunshot. there’s a bit of a dinner-bell effect,” says Louisa Willcox, senior wildlife advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Montana. “The result is more surprise encounters [between humans and grizzlies], with bears and hunters ending up at the elk carcass at the same time.”Skip to next paragraph
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Grizzlies will need more “connected habitat” – corridors or even islands of land where they can safely move between mountain range habitats as they forage more widely for food, she says.
“Connectivity” is a buzzword among biologists like Dr. Wiens. Enabling wildlife to migrate to survive the heat is about more than just north-south corridors. It’s recognizing “environmental gradients” – mapping climate impacts across now-protected areas and other types of land use, and “how land use and protection can be designed to enhance movement along the gradients,” he says.
Unpublished data released by the USGS indicates that by 2100, climate change will drastically alter the biological environment (biomes) of many of the 520 national wildlife refuges in the US. At least 65 percent of the refuges would be sharply different biomes than today, with 9 percent straddling their current zone and 26 percent remaining the same.
Such warming is widespread, with more pronounced effects in the Arctic, where sea ice hit record low levels in 2007, 30 years sooner than climate models had once predicted.
On the densely populated East Coast, where animals that need a cooler climate might be blocked by urban areas as they try to move northward, the Appalachian Trail could be used by biologists as a major north-south corridor to channel key species northward, says Douglas Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation.
“As a profession, [wildlife biologists] are in the very nascent stage of figuring out how to do adaptive management,” he says. “To do vulnerability assessments, we must downscale climate models to local levels, then model biological and ecological impacts. We don’t have the climate data localized yet, which is the reason it’s such a challenge. It’s an urgent issue.”
Editor’s note: See alsothe sidebar, Ways to help wildlife adapt to a warmer world.
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