Moving Up: Wildlife Responses to Climate Change

 Photo by naturalhistoryman |

Although past and potential climate change has been considered an inconvenience and even destructive to wildlife, new research shows that this may, in fact, not be the outcome in most situations. 

It turns out that species are moving around the planet at rates faster than previously predicted in response to changes in climate.  Warming climates, in particular, lead plants and animals to move upwards either in altitude or latitude in order to live in their respective ideal environments. 

However, according to a recent article in Science, this is now occurring up to three times faster than observed before, jumping from an average of 40 feet per decade to just over 10 miles a decade.  Although this isn’t true for all species (some actually move closer to the Equator, like some species of British butterflies), it is a noticeable worldwide trend. 

The strongest connection to climate change lies in the notable correlation between the degree to which an area warmed and how far species from that area relocated, serving as an ‘unambiguous’ association between climate and habitat. 

So what now?  Well, on the bright side, species seem to be having little trouble finding suitable environments to migrate to once their current environment warms. 

What makes things more complicated, however, is the variance in individual responses.  Keep in mind that climate isn’t the only aspect to consider; precipitation rates, predation, and food sources will also affect new habitat suitability.  I would expect such a wide range of individual responses to make it extremely difficult for researchers to accurately and consistently define the migration behaviour of a large number of species. 

There is likely to be research focused on wildlife responses to climate change for many species at some point, but combining it altogether to establish some sort of flow chart (if you will) of species migration will involve a great deal of time (and likely error).