Wildlife Needs New Corridors to Escape Rising Heat

An otter tries to cross a road. Hard times are ahead for species that can find no safe passage to habitat. (Mandcrobertson via Wikimedia Commons)
US scientists worried about what global warming and climate change may do to wildlife have come up with the ultimate in creature-friendly versions of road maps or highway patrols.

By Tim Radford | Climate News Network, truthdig.com

They want to see natural corridors that link safe habitats and ecosystems, so that as conditions change, plants and animals—and the continental US is home to 800 species of bird, more than 400 kinds of mammal and more than 600 reptiles and amphibians—get a chance to migrate.

And, they report, only 2% of the eastern US offers the climate connectivity—their word for it—that could deliver the slow, safe passage that the native flora and fauna need to cope with shifts in temperature and changing rainfall patterns.

For decades, ecologists have been worried about what climate change will do for creatures that have evolved to flourish in a range of suitable habitats. They have warned that many wild things—already threatened by pollution, hunting and habitat destruction—could be pushed closer to extinction and have separately made the case for, for example, mammals in Borneo, birds in America and trees everywhere

Concrete obstacles

And increasing urbanisation presents a new hazard: creatures that start to lose parts of their range in the south may not be able to migrate north because vast conurbations, linked by tarmacadam and pavement, and screened by industrial zones and intensively farmed land, block the way.

Jenny McGuire, a biologist at Georgia Institute of Technology, and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they looked at the problem of escape routes for creatures that will need to shift their ground with the gradual shift in climate.

Around 45% of the contiguous US is “natural.” The Western US is a landscape of mountain chains, prairie, high plains and forested coasts, pockmarked with desert regions, and a procession of national parks. The connectivity rating there is as high as 41%.

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