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Climate change drives animals uphill

Fri, 19th Aug 2011

Chris Smith

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Animals overheated by climate change are heading uphill and away from the Global air temperatureequator, a new study has found.

A range of studies in recent years have suggested that some species are relocating to higher ground and farther from the equator in a bid to remain cool in the face of global temperature rises driven by climate change. But to what extent this migration is comprehensive and global across species was not known.

Now York University scientist Chris Thomas and his colleagues have confirmed, in a paper in Science, that animals really are on the move. The researchers performed a meta-analysis, collating the results of a large number of previous studies that had monitored the movements of over 2000 species, to show that animals are moving uphill at the rate of about 11 metres per decade and shifting their ranges away from the equator an average of 16.9 kilometres over the same period.

These numbers are far larger than those advanced by previous studies. The team cross-checked their results by making predictions of the scale of a species' movements based on the temperature changes in different geographical areas, and then comparing these predictions with the real observations. The two tallied strongly.

There are some exceptions to the rule, with up to 25% of species bucking the general trend, like birds for instance, although accounting for these anomalies is outside the scope of this study. It's also unsurprising since the movement of one species may open up niches or reduce the stress on another species, enabling it to stay put.

The impact of the finding is highly significant and may also have clinical implications for human health as non-native animals move into new terrains, potentially bringing a host of diseases with them...



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Interesting study, although I'm only able to find summaries online and not the original paper.

So, if everything has been moving away from the Equator....  What is living AT the equator?

In many senses, this should be taken as a good sign.  Species are adapting to the changing environment...  which has continuously been changing since the beginning of time.  In fact, any stability over the last 10,000 years should be considered more as the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.  But, there is growing evidence that even through the Holocene, the climate hasn't been as stable as some people might want to believe.

I would have to ask though, how much of this is being caused by habitat destruction and encroachment of habitat by Humans (who often put our farms in the valleys, and force the remaining animals into the mountains).  Also, increased habitat from imported invasive species imported by humans. Not to mention over hunting and fishing.  Certainly some species flourish in Urban/Suburban environments, as well as heavy agricultural environments, some don't.

I might worry that a meta-study might make conclusions that would be beyond the scope of the original studies. CliffordK, Sun, 21st Aug 2011

I wonder how long it will take for polar bears to get brown fur and start raiding picnics?  I suppose some animals have run out of space to move............ if your an animal adapted to conditions at the equator then at least that gives you some scope for movement to better climatic conditions. 

It's not only the animals that are moving either, people are doing it too. I predicted this years ago and I also predict that at some point there is going to be huge conflicts as so called immigrants seek better living conditions on greener pastures. Aaron_Thomas, Mon, 22nd Aug 2011

With zero sunlight in the winter, the arctic will continue to ice over every winter.

The Arctic Fox as well as the Arctic Hare and some other animals have adapted to the natural arctic climate variation (summer/winter cycles) with a white coat in the winter, and a brown coat in the summer.  The Polar Bear doesn't currently have that adaptation. 

People have been migrating to "greener pastures" certainly for the last 1000 years of relative modern history, but it could also be described as a a major driving force behind the last 5,000,000 years of human history and evolution.

There is a new term called "Climate Refugees" or "Environmental Migrant"

Yet, many of the areas at greatest risk for displacement are those with out of control population growth.  It is unclear if the number of people predicted to be displaced due to climate impacts are equal to the predicted population growth in those areas.  Or, potentially those with the least sustainable agricultural practices. CliffordK, Tue, 23rd Aug 2011

Polar Bears are already inter-breeding with other north american bears (i think it was grizzlies) producing white bears with dirty faces.  I will dig out the original nature article and post a link imatfaal, Tue, 23rd Aug 2011

Not that it has anything to do with polar bears, but I read something in the paper the other day about a recent dramatic increase in the Antarctic ice pack because of much greater snowfall in the Southern Hemisphere in recent times. Is anyone familiar with the details?

It's usually hot and dry here in the summer, but it's been really dry this year. We only had a trace amount of rain in July, and, so far, none at all in August. Ironically, we live in what is officially classified as a rain forest Geezer, Tue, 23rd Aug 2011

Sadly it is putting some animals at grave risk of staying very still; permanently.

"In 2008, the white lemuroid possum was reported to be the first known mammal species to be driven extinct by man-made global warming. However, these reports were based on a misunderstanding. One population of these possums in the mountain forests of northern Queensland is severely threatened by climate change as the animals cannot survive extended temperatures over 30 C. However, another population 100 kilometres south remains in good health." (from wiki) Bored chemist, Tue, 23rd Aug 2011

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