A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Running from Climate Change Getting Tougher


Some of our closest cousins, like the howler monkey in this photo, are finding it harder to escape from climate change fast enough.

A new study, led by ecologist Carrie Schloss of the University of Washington, says that more and more animals are on the move, trying to adapt to a warmer planet. And while some of them are managing to outrun global warming, others just can’t keep up with what’s happening.

As they have in response to past climatic changes, many species will shift their distributions in response to modern climate change. However, due to the unprecedented rapidity of projected climatic changes, some species may not be able to move their ranges fast enough to track shifts in suitable climates and associated habitats.

In the Western Hemisphere, nearly 10 percent of mammals will be unable to move fast enough to keep up with changes in climate. In the Amazon region, 40 percent of all animals will be stuck.

Primates, in particular, are already finding it hard to keep up. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says they will likely lose 75 percent of the amount of land they need as the climate changes and they can’t find new places to live.

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.

A complete migration is not the same thing as how fast you can run. It means developing a new lifestyle and culture, the ability to find the food you need or to adapt to a new diet, and being able to raise your young.

Around the Amazon, animals who can only migrate by about half a mile each year would, for example, have to migrate eight times faster than they naturally do to keep up with changes in climate.

sloth-051612Previous studies showed that as the planet warms, climate change will expand the ranges where some kinds of animals can live. But Schloss’s team analyzed whether animals could actually get to these new habitats, and what they found was that, in reality, true ranges will actually shrink drastically and that range size will be reduced by nearly 40 percent.

Ironically, while it will be increasingly tough for primates (and in the United States for smaller animals like moles and shrews), one species that may be able to migrate quite fast will be sloths. That’s because while sloths are known for moving very slowly compared to, say, primates, their actual rate of dispersal (the movement of a juvenile away from its home range to establish a new territory or find a mate) is faster.

Another challenge for animals everywhere is migrating their way around human civilization.

“In the past when climates have changed, the landscape wasn’t covered with agricultural fields, four-lane highways and parking lots, so species could move much more freely across the landscape,” said study researcher Josh Lawler.

Lawler says we could help the animals in their migrations by understanding the routes they’re taking and creating natural corridors for them.