Climate Change forcing Species to Migrate, How Will Humans Deal With It?

As the Atlantic warms, mackerel have spread north. Image: NOAA

A new study from the University of Florida and the University of Tasmania found that climate change is currently forcing species to migrate from their historic ranges and its leaving communities unprepared for these new species. As the UF blog explained, “scientists predict species will generally move toward the poles or higher elevations as they search for cooler climates, but it’s hard to know what specific species will do—and how humans will respond.”

What the Science Says: As Brett Scheffers, assistant professor of wildlife ecology and conservation in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences explained, “What we do know is that they will move, and that presents challenges for people who make decisions about how to manage wildlife. It used to be that you could draw a box around a species and say, ‘this species lives here,’ but we are going to see them leaking out of those boxes.”

  • The study’s authors hypothesized that past example of species movement could provide insight into how we might manage mass movement of species affected by climate change.

Building on Past Science: Previous studies have shown that half of all species (both plant and animal) are on the move as a result of climate change. The study done by the University of Florida and the University of Tasmania focused on how people can better prepare for a mass migration of animal species.

Why This Matters: Increased migration as a result of climate change will create problems for people who manage wildlife–as it’s incredibly difficult to predict how the introduction of new species will affect an ecosystem and community. Some species we think of as good, such as tortoises or pheasants and worthy of our protection while other species like coyotes are routinely culled because we view them as pests and don’t properly manage their numbers. The human response to species migration will be key to ensuring that animals seeking new homes can coexist with people and native wildlife as climate change continues to drive them out of their historic ranges.

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