Climate Change Upsets Wildlife Migratory Patterns

People are masters of changing the natural world. We build cities, install false borders and carve tunnels through mountains. We can even alter the climate of the entire globe – even though we’re not trying to do it.


Climate Change Upsets Wildlife Migratory Patterns


Guest Post by Emily Folk

The changes we make to the planet and its environment can upset the behavioural patterns of many species, impacting the way an animal acts and how well it can adapt to changing conditions. Storms are getting worse, deserts are expanding and wildlife is finding it increasingly difficult to survive. Climate change is impacting our world in ways we haven’t even realized yet.

The reality is, we are reducing many animals’ chance of survival. The species that are already at risk are having the hardest time because they were already struggling to survive, and many of them live in areas that are more susceptible to climate change.

Land and Air

A recent study explored the impact of climate change on land mammals and birds and the results were not uplifting. Land mammals and birds are struggling to survive in the face of climate change. As the world warms, everything is changing. The study found that of the species studied, 47 percent of threatened land mammals and 23 percent of endangered birds are already being affected by climate change.

Those are huge numbers, but they aren’t surprising. The animals that are most affected seem to be those with a specialised diet, and that live in areas where plants aren’t adapting well to warmer weather. This is forcing them to move, where they lose access to what little vegetation they have. They are then dispersing into smaller and smaller ranges and changing their migratory patterns to find enough food.

Marine Life

While the numbers of affected land animals are staggering, they aren’t the only animals who migrate. Marine wildlife is also struggling, both from climate change and from human disruption. Underwater drones are providing some insight as to how species migrate and adapt to changes in their marine environment.

One region that is experiencing rapid changes is the Arctic; yet, we don’t yet fully understand what the impacts will be. Some species, like gray whales, migrate to the Arctic every year for food. As the waters warm, it’s unclear what will happen. Their migration patterns may have to extend farther and farther north for them to find enough food.

Gray whales are just one example of animals that are altering the migratory patterns due to the changing climate. It’s estimated that over 80 percent of marine mammals are changing their migration and feeding patterns due to climate change and the warming waters it brings. The alterations occurring in the ocean are happening faster than what we see on land, and we’re behind the curve on it. Keeping track of the migrating species is difficult, especially when we can no longer find them in their usual feeding grounds.

Coral Reefs

Warm waters are pleasant to swim in, but they tend to lack nutrients that are vital for marine species. As temperatures increase, we’re starting to see startling changes. Global bleaching events that go on for years not only hurt coral but also the species that live in the precious reef ecosystems. It puts pressure on our most vulnerable and vital ecosystem. After all, “Without the blue, there is no green.”

Migratory patterns exist because species have to move to survive. They rely on knowing where they’re going and what to expect when they get there. The less certainty they have, the greater the variables they encounter, the worse their chances of survival. On a small scale, like building a dam or a city constructed on feeding grounds, this might not matter much. But on a global level, like what we see with climate change, the impact can be insurmountable.

The planet has already seen five mass extinction events, and scientists say that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. The best chance we have of protecting these at-risk species is to study them, learn how they’re being affected, ensure our protection measures are as comprehensive as possible, and improve the way we treat our environment.


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