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Mammals may not be able to Keep up with Climate Change

Mammals Global Warming

According to a new study from researchers at the University of Washington, hundreds of mammals in the Western Hemisphere may not be able to migrate with the speed of climate change.

The researchers took a look at the dispersal speed of 493 mammals in the Western Hemisphere ranging from a moose to a shrew and found that 39 percent may not be able to keep up with the climate change.

Lead author of the study, Carrie Schloss, a University of Washington research analyst in environmental and forest sciences explains that dispersal is the movement of an animal away from its home range, without anticipated return.

“In our research, we consider natal dispersal, which involves the movement of a juvenile away from its home range before its first reproductive event, for example to establish a territory or to find a mate,” Schloss says.

The research team looked at projections for North and South America from 10 different global-climate computer programs for the period 1961 to 2071. “When dispersal is ignored, the ranges of 149 of the 493 mammalian species in this study are on average projected to expand,” Schloss says. But including how far each species can travel to new homes reversed the trend and projected a range contraction for 86 of these species, or nearly 60 percent.

Overall, across the Western Hemisphere, she says primate species are the least likely to keep pace with climate change compared to other mammals. “The primates will likely experience reductions in their range size, due to reductions in the area that will be climatically suitable in the future, and also due to their inability to expand into all of the area that will likely be climatically suitable,” according to Schloss.

Co-author Joshua Lawler, a University of Washington associate professor of environmental and forest sciences says, “I think it’s important to point out that in the past when climates have changed, between glacial and interglacial periods when species ranges contracted and expanded, the landscape wasn’t covered with agricultural fields, four-lane highways and parking lots, so species could move much more freely across the landscape.”

“Conservation planners could help some species keep pace with climate change by focusing on connectivity, on linking together areas that could serve as pathways to new territories, particularly where animals will encounter human-land development. For species unable to keep pace, reducing non-climate-related stressors could help make populations more resilient, but ultimately reducing emissions, and therefore reducing the pace of climate change, may be the only certain method to make sure species are able to keep pace with climate change.”

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which appeared online the week of May 14, 2012.

Climate Change Animal Migration

Image Credit: University of Washington

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