Animals Also Affected by Climate Change

May 18, 2012

A new study named, “Dispersal will limit ability of mammals to track climate change in the Western Hemisphere” from the University of Washington released on Monday, May 14, 2012 examines how 493 animals will fare as they attempt to outrun the rising heat from climate change.

The article, authored by Carrie A. Schloss, Tristan A. Nuñez, and Joshua J. Lawler, was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and says on average 9.2% of the mammals in the study migrate too slowly to keep pace with expected climate shifts.  In some places, such as the Amazon basin and parts of the Appalachian Mountains, up to 39% of animals may be unable to find suitable climates in a warming world.

Contrary to popular belief, although temperature changes are expected to be more extreme in mountainous regions, equatorial-dwelling mammals may have a rougher time moving their ranges fast enough.  This is because temperatures at the equator have been fairly static and the animals that live there are adapted to steady temperatures.  Conversely, animals that live in the mountains don’t have as far to go to find cooler temperatures.  Flat lands are also a problem for mammals.  For example, animals that live in the Central United States or the Amazon basin will need to travel farther to beat the heat.

Mammals that take several years to mature, such as New World monkeys, disperse more slowly and this puts them in danger of extinction.  The study indicates that a whopping 87% of animals are expected to have smaller dispersal ranges.  Of which, 20% will probably result from limited dispersal abilities rather than less suitable climates.

The analysis provides additional information on how humans might help these animals and our own plight.  Reducing emissions is critical to slow down climate change.  However, it is also possible to ease animal migration barriers such as shopping centers, roads, and cities.  In fact, people could even build corridors to help the mammals reach safe havens in time.