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Migrations in Motion, colourful migration map

New map shows how animals will flee climate change

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, August 29, 2016, 2:57 PM - The map up above is mesmerizing to look at, provided you don't think too hard about what it represents.

Those gentle streaks of purple, blue and yellow are meant to represent almost 3,000 animal species -- mammals, birds and amphibians, respectively -- and the routes they're expected to take in the coming decades as climate change forces them to find new habitats.

The models show they'll have preferred migratory routes as well, many based around natural features. Watch the lines curve around the Great Lakes, and converge like a highway along the Appalachian Mountains, attractive due to the cooler climate of their higher elevations.

"It was shocking to see these features emerge so clearly. You can really see them when the data are visualized like this," University of Washington Prof. Joshua Lawler, lead author of the study that produced the data upon which the map is based, said in a release from the university. The map, "Migrations in Motion," was drawn up in partnership with the Nature Conservancy.

In Canada, you can watch the species stream into Ontario from the southwest and east, before curving upward into northern parts of that province and neighbouring Quebec. Out west, B.C.'s migrations are narrower, concentrated along the lines of its mountain ranges, while on the comparatively flatter Prairies, movements are more widespread. And though New Brunswick is a major throughway for species on their way to Gaspé, movement in narrow Nova Scotia and the island of Newfoundland is much more restricted.

The researchers do have a few caveats for anyone getting lost in the map, chief among them: It doesn't mean people should prepare for a literal stampede of 3,000 species "through my backyard." Rather, researchers "used coarse 50 km data, which is good for understanding the big picture view, but not good for understanding local patterns." Another thing to keep in mind is that each coloured streak represents a species' movement, not that of individual animals.

The map and data could also be useful for human planners. Unlike in centuries past, human activity such as cities, infrastructure and farmland can place limits on how a species migrates.

"There are a number of ways that conservationists and land managers can re-build or maintain connectivity to improve species’ ability to adapt to warmer temperatures," the map's makers write. "Removing fencing, adding wildlife overpasses (or underpasses) to major roadways, and better routing of infrastructure like pipelines and powerlines can all help re-connect areas fragmented by human development."

SOURCES: University of WashingtonMigrations in Motion

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