What if the People’s Climate March had Included Plants & Animals?
American Pika (Ochotona princeps) ©National Park Service
According to the latest estimates, nearly 400,000 people gathered in New York City this past Sunday to participate in the People’s Climate March. Thousands more took part in similar events in London, Paris, Istanbul, Jakarta, and other parts of the world. Photos of the massive turnout, timed to precede today’s UN Climate Summit, dominated yesterday’s news and social media feeds.
400,000 people. It’s an impressive number, and it does give me hope.
But as someone who just wrapped up an issue of a publication that explored the topic of climate-driven species movement, I wondered: how high would the count be if plants and animals had the ability to represent themselves at the People’s Climate March?
Quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma), living and dead, in Namibia.
Imagine hosts of Baird’s sparrows (Ammodramus bairdii), flying down Sixth Avenue, over the heads of the marchers, demonstrating their outrage over the recent projection that they will lose 100% of their breeding range by 2020 thanks to climate change. If Quiver trees (Aloe dichotoma) could uproot themselves from the deserts of Namibia and South Africa, surely they’d march on behalf of brethren who are dying at increasing rates in low elevations and areas closer to the equator. What if colonies of pika (Ochotona princeps) who have already disappeared from one-third of their previously known habitat because they cannot escape rising temperatures, skittered among the marching feet of protesters?
Landscape architect Michael Spina (2nd from L) at the People’s Climate March
My colleague, Michael Spina, was one of those protesters. After attending the march with his friends and family, he said, “we all took away a feeling of positivity and hope, which was palpable being surrounded by such a large powerful community of folks who are concerned about the environment.”
To Michael, and to all others who take action by participating in events like the People’s Climate March: thank you. Your “community” is larger than you can imagine.
Climate-Driven Species Movement
Earth’s climate has always been changing, and living things have always needed to adapt to changing environments in order to survive and reproduce. For many species, this has meant movement. But for species on the move due to modern climate change, travel ain’t what it used to be.
First, there are the travel routes. By altering the landscape in the name of development, agriculture, and infrastructure, we humans have not made it easy for any kind of species migration, let alone those we cannot yet anticipate.
Then, there is the pace of climate change. Stanford climate scientists warn that the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift in the past 65 million years. A 2011 study showed that species movement in response to climate change is happening two to three times faster than previously estimated, but is that fast enough? Can species keep pace? Last month’s news about the brown argus butterfly, the first known species to lose its ability to do something essential (eat and lay eggs on one of the two plants it has needed for survival) as it moves in response to climate change, raises doubts. So does Audubon’s recently released Birds and Climate Change Report, which projected that in merely 66 years, half of North American bird species will have lost 50% of their climatic range.
By 2080, the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) could lose 77% of its breeding range
What do we know about current and projected climate-driven species movement? Can this information inform our work in ecological restoration, conservation planning and regenerative design so that we can facilitate species movement as the climate changes? What about the movement of invasive species in response to climate change? In the latest issue of Leaf Litter, we explore climate-driven species movement.
To get a sense of the state of the latest science and challenges associated with it, we chat with two researchers who are studying climate-driven species movement. Dr. Josh Lawler is an ecologist at the University of Washington whose current work involves modeling the responses of animal species and populations to land-use and climate change. He is the author of several papers on species-driven movement and contributor to the U.S. National Climate Assessment.
Dr. Miguel B. Araújo holds the Chair in Integrative Biogeography at the Imperial College London, while also serving as a research scientist at Spain’s National Museum of Natural Sciences and a visiting professor at the University of Évora, Portugal and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. Last year, his work studying the effects of climate change on regional and global biodiversity earned him the prestigious Ebbe Nielsen Prize, which recognizes innovative research excellence in integrating biodiversity science and informatics.
Mountain pine beetle infections, made worse by climate change, impact whitebark pine, a food source for grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) food sources.
Though the study of climate-driven species movement is relatively new and constantly evolving, many people are applying the science to their work in restoration and conservation. Strategies range from ex situ conservation to the oft-debated approach of “assisted migration.” We share some examples.
One outstanding example, which we’re delighted to highlight in our Non-Profit Spotlight, is Wildlands Network, an organization that is hard at work creating continental-scale “wildways” to facilitate species movement throughout North America.
In her article Moving on up, Jessica Norris reminds us that in our efforts to restore coastal ecosystems and protect communities in the face of sea level rise, we must allow for the upshore movement of non-human members of those communities. We share resources on this topic, as well as latest news at Biohabitats. Are you considering climate-driven species movement in your work? Tell us about it right here!