As the world continues to get warmer, even animals who like it that way will soon be forced to leave their natural habitats in search of relief. Migrations of this type and magnitude will be something unlike anything we’ve seen in recent human history. Entire species will become climate refugees, forced to wander across the continent looking for a new place with the food, water and shelter they need to survive.
A study recently conducted at the University of Washington [pdf] provided some interesting insight into what it may be like to live through this time in Earth’s history. Using a model of how electricity finds the path of least resistance when traveling across circuit boards, the researchers were able to predict which regions will become animal superhighways (interestingly many of them are places where animals and plants are currently in need of stronger protections).
The Amazon Basin
A regions that extends across seven different South American countries, the Amazon Basin is likely to see the greatest number of animal movements: “up to 17 times the average across the hemisphere,” according to the study’s authors. They further explain that, ”The high northern latitudes also show pronounced species movements, not because of animals currently found there but because of an expected influx of species.”
The Southeastern United States
With high humidity and lush vegetation, it’s not hard to see why animals moving north in search of a new home might be drawn toward the American South. “The golden mouse, ornate chorus frog, and southern cricket frog — three of the species that will likely be on the move in southeastern US — were among the nearly 3,000 mammals, birds, and amphibians the scientists included in their study, nearly half of all such animals in the Western Hemisphere,” according to a release. Scientists expect that movement in the Southeast will be up to 2.5 times the average amount of movement across North and South America.
Other areas that could see pronounced animal movements are northeastern North America, including around the Great Lakes and north into Canada; southeastern Brazil, home to both the species-rich Atlantic Forest; and major cities such as Sao Paulo with its 11 million residents.
To create their model, the researchers took 10 projections of future climate, projected species movements for all 10, then averaged the results. Then, they made adjustments to account for cities, agriculture and other landscape barriers that would serve as funnels, channeling the animals who want to avoid exposure in these areas into tight passageways of wilderness.
The authors say that identifying where large numbers of species will need to move can help guide land use and conservation planning.
Also check out: Climate Change Could Endanger More Animals Than We Thought
Image via Thinkstock
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