Will Animals be Able to Track Projected Changes in Climate?
Joshua Lawler, University of Washington
In the past, as the earth’s climates changed, many species moved across continents to track suitable conditions. Projected future changes in climate will likely result in similar shifts in today’s flora and fauna. Here, I discuss two studies that explore whether mammals will be able to move fast enough to track projected changes in climate and how mammals, birds, and amphibians will likely move across human-dominated landscapes to track changing climates. To answer the first question, we used predictive models to map the rate at which each of 493 mammal species would need to move to track climate change in any given 50-km by 50-km grid cell in the Western Hemisphere. We then used modeled estimates of dispersal rates to determine what percentage of mammals in any given grid cell could keep pace with projected species- and location-specific climate velocities. To address the second question, we used movement models to map routes that species would likely need to take to track suitable climates while avoiding areas heavily impacted by humans. We conclude that on average 9% of mammals in any given place in the Western Hemisphere will be unable to keep pace with climate change and in some places up to 39% will be unable to track suitable climates. Our movement models identified several hotspots of movement through which many species will likely need to pass to track suitable climates. These hotspots highlight protected areas that will likely facilitate movements as well as areas where current land-use patterns will likely impede climate-driven range shifts.
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