Photo by: Alexandria Maynard
With increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere due to human-caused carbon emissions, our global atmosphere is warming. Climates around the world are already seeing changes and are expected to keep changing with a continued release of carbon emissions. Due to this warming, scientists are predicting that global climate systems will be affected in different ways. According to the National Climate Assessment, average global temperatures are expected to rise about four degrees Celsius by the year 2100. This will alter weather patterns such as precipitation, which will increase in intensity and frequency in some areas while decreasing in others. This causes most areas to be more susceptible to severe floods and droughts. In addition, human-caused climate change will have impacts on our planet that will alter the environments of millions of animal species.
Some animal species thrive in a fixed area, relying on resources and shelter ideal for survival. Migratory species take advantage of the changing seasons and travel large distances to reach places that will provide better resources. Types of migratory species like birds, amphibians, and mammals can travel distances from a few hundred yards to miles, sometimes even crossing continents. As the climate changes, fixed species may move to another habitat that fits their needs as migratory species will have to alter their migration patterns to adapt. Large changes in temperature and precipitation manipulate the phenology and resources of a habitat as well as increase the risk of natural disasters like fires, droughts, and floods. This causes habitat destruction which threatens survival during migration.
Phenology is the recurrence of biological events such as the onset of budding in the spring and changing of leaves in autumn. With increasing temperatures, certain environments are seeing seasonal changes such as earlier springs, longer summers, and shorter, milder winters. This can cause the phenology of an area to act erratically. For example, trees will start to bud and flowers will bloom before their natural time. In-turn, this confuses migratory species, causing them to start migration earlier or later than usual and shorten the distances in which they travel. A study done by Marcel E. Visser, Perdeck, Balen and Both observed that birds in Europe decreased distances of migration during winters where temperatures were above average. With a warmer winter, birds would not have to travel very far to find sufficient resources.
An abundance of resources in an area can help migratory species thrive and could become an area where they choose to make their stay before moving on. Energy, like an abundance of rainfall, sunlight, and soil nutrients can cause a habitat to be exceptionally resourceful. Increased growth of vegetation can provide shelter and food, but lack thereof does not provide a suitable rest-stop for migratory species. This will cause them to have to continue their travel elsewhere to rest, lengthening the time and distance of their route. With climate change, some areas will thrive in growth as others will find it difficult. This can either help migratory species rest and restore energy before moving on or make travel harder.
Under projected scenarios for future climate change, some areas will see more rain than others and warmer temperatures. This increases the risk of natural disasters such as floods, droughts, and fires that can drastically change a habitat in a matter of days. This significantly decreases resources of food and shelter, leaving certain areas uninhabitable. Any species of animal is unlikely to travel through an area desolated by a fire that had incinerated all shelter and available food. They especially will avoid an area that is in the process of burning. Migratory birds may find it easier to take rest in an area that has been flooded than those that travel by land because of taller trees that stand higher than the flood level. These natural disasters also contribute to extending distance and increasing the difficulty of migration.
Migratory animal species are dependent on habitats for their travel and survival. A rapidly changing climate can affect a habitat by changing its resources and phenology as well as increasing the risk of floods, fires, and droughts. This threatens the life of migratory species as well as changes their migration patterns as they try to adapt. Ultimately, climate change may be severely detrimental to their existence.
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© 2018 Meteorologist Alexandria Maynard