New research from North Carolina State University (and supported by the Southeast Climate Science Center) finds that urban warming reduces growth and photosynthesis in city trees. The researchers found that insect pests are part of the problem, but that heat itself plays a more significant role.
“Earlierstudies have shown that urban warming increases pest abundance in street trees,” says Emily Meineke, lead author of a paper describing the work. “We wanted to know how urban warming and pest abundance affect tree growth, since trees pull carbon out of the atmosphere and convert it into biomass. This is important, because we know that high levels of atmospheric carbon play a role in climate change.” Meineke did the work while a Ph.D. student at NC State. She is now a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard.
To explore this issue, researchers went to 20 pairs of willow oak trees (Quercus phellos) across Raleigh, North Carolina. At each site, one tree was treated with an oil that kills insect pests, and the second tree was left untreated. The sites were located across a variety of different urban temperatures, and air temperature was monitored at each site over the course of the experiment.
The researchers tracked the growth of all 40 trees for two years. Growth was assessed in two ways: by measuring the circumference of each tree’s trunk, and by measuring how much specific branches grew on each tree. The researchers also measured each tree’s photosynthesis, which is how trees capture carbon from the atmosphere and is a key marker of tree health.
The researchers found that scale insects and spider mites – well known tree pests – were more abundant at hotter sites. Specifically, they found that spider mite populations more than doubled when a site’s average temperature crossed a threshold of 16.4 degrees Celsius (61.5 degrees Fahrenheit). Scale insects, however, showed a linear relationship with temperature. In other words, the hotter it got, the more scale insects there were.
The researchers also found that warming negatively affected tree photosynthesis and growth, regardless of whether pests were present.
“Trees that didn’t have pests had more branch growth than trees with pests,” Meineke says. “But trees at warmer sites had less trunk growth, which accounts for more tree biomass, regardless of pests.”
The researchers then plugged these results into a model to determine the extent to which urban warming impacted carbon storage for all of the willow oaks in Raleigh.
“We found that urban warming reduced carbon storage by all of Raleigh’s willow oaks by 12 percent, or 27 metric tons per year,” Meineke says.
“We think the findings are generalizable to other tree species and other cities, especially hotter cities like Atlanta, but additional work needs to be done to determine whether that’s the case,” Meineke says.
The paper, “Urban warming reduces aboveground carbon storage,” is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The paper was co-authored by Elsa Youngsteadt, an entomology research associate at NC State; Rob Dunn, a professor of applied ecology at NC State; and Steve Frank, an associate professor of entomology and plant pathology at NC State. The work was supported by the Department of the Interior’s Southeast Climate Science Center, under cooperative agreement numbers G11AC20471, G13AC00405 and G15AP00153; by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, under grant number 2013-02476; and by the National Science Foundation under grants 0953390 and 1136703.
The U.S. Geological Survey has released a Program Announcement via Grants.gov to request applications to host Climate Science Centers (CSCs) in the Northwest and Southeast.
The program announcement invites proposals to host each CSC (including identification of consortium partners), and to determine if their proposed science, partnership, and program support activities and strategies are appropriate to serve in these roles.
Applications must be submitted to grants.gov by January 12, 2017 at 3:00 PM EST.
To facilitate the financial assistance application process, a 2-hour informational conference call / webinar will be conducted on October 18, 2016 at 2:00 PM EDT by the NCCWSC to accommodate inquiries from applicants about this program and the proposal review, evaluation, and selection process. Interested applicants should email Kristen Donahue, firstname.lastname@example.org, to obtain call-in/web address information.
“From the mountains to the coast, the southeastern U.S. contains ecosystems that harbor incredible biodiversity. Many of those ecosystems are already highly at risk from urbanization and other human land-use change. Identifying the ecosystems at risk from climate change will help inform conservation and management to ensure we don’t lose that biodiversity.” (Jennifer Constanza, report author)
At least several southeastern U.S. ecosystems are highly vulnerable to the impacts of present and future climate change, according to two new USGS reports on research conducted by scientists with Interior Department's Southeast Climate Science Center.
At-risk ecosystems occur in states ranging from Texas to Florida, Virginia to Georgia as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
They include Caribbean coastal mangrove, Edwards Plateau limestone shrubland, karst-depression wetlands, Nashville Basin limestone glade and woodland, southern Appalachian balds and southern loess bluff forest (more info about each of these ecosystem types is at the bottom of the release).
“From the mountains to the coast, the southeastern U.S. contains ecosystems that harbor incredible biodiversity,” said Jennifer Costanza, lead author of one of the reports and a scientist with North Carolina State University. “Many of those ecosystems are already highly at risk from urbanization and other human land-use change. Identifying the ecosystems at risk from climate change will help inform conservation and management to ensure we don’t lose that biodiversity.”
Some of the vulnerable ecosystems lie within the boundaries of the North American Coastal Plain, an approximately 1.1-million-square-kilometer (425,000-square-mile) area, mainly located in the southeastern U.S., that was designated the world’s 36th global biodiversity hotspot in February 2016. Moreover, many can be considered regional hotspots, as they comprise pockets of land that are especially biologically rich compared with their surroundings.
Researchers used the existing scientific literature and, in some cases, geospatial analysis to determine each ecosystem’s sensitivity to changes in climate, its exposure level to those changes and its capacity to adapt.
All ecosystems identified as highly vulnerable support a variety of rare and geographically restricted plants and animals, including numerous federally endangered or threatened species. Because most of these at-risk ecosystems are geographically isolated and have unique geological characteristics, the authors noted that it may be difficult for species to escape or adapt to the effects of climate change.
For example, the woody plants found in Edwards Plateau limestone shrubland are restricted to the unique soils and topography of the area. Similarly, because southern Appalachian balds are found at the tops of mountains, native plants and animals will be challenged to migrate to new areas.
According to the reports, present and growing threats to Southeast ecosystems include warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns and rising sea levels. In addition, droughts, wildfires and extreme storms could become more frequent in some areas. At the same time, ecosystems are stressed by human impacts, such as the conversion of land for urban or agricultural use, which can exacerbate the effects of climate change.
The authors emphasized that assessing ecosystem vulnerability to climate change is a key first step in regional conservation planning and prioritization. Ecosystem-level assessments can offer insight as to how climate change may alter hydrology and other ecological processes, and provide information on many rare species at once by capturing the vulnerability of their shared habitat.
“These reports provide the groundwork for future explorations of how climate change will affect ecosystems and the plants and animals that rely on them,” said USGS scientist Jennifer Cartwright, lead author of the other report. “With this kind of information, managers can take steps to thoughtfully assess where conservation actions should be directed to preserve the ‘conservation stage’ upon which the drama of interacting human and natural systems will unfold under changing climate and land use conditions in coming decades.”
Caribbean coastal mangrove is found along coastal Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where it is vulnerable to expected sea-level rise, precipitation changes and more frequent storm events.
Edwards Plateau limestone shrubland, found in central Texas, is subject to stress from drought as the climate becomes warmer and drier. Nearby urbanization will make adaptation difficult or impossible for native species.
Karst-depression wetlands, which occur throughout southeastern states from Virginia to Florida, are highly sensitive to anticipated changes in precipitation and groundwater levels.
Nashville Basin limestone glade and woodland is primarily located in central Tennessee, but also found in parts of Kentucky, Virginia, Alabama and Georgia. Its major threats from climate change include warmer temperatures and precipitation changes, resulting in either more or less drought.
Southern Appalachian balds are located in high-elevation areas of the southern Appalachian mountains, from West Virginia to Georgia. Warmer temperatures may compromise this ecosystem by allowing woody plants from lower elevations to take over.
Southern loess bluff forest occurs on the eastern bluffs of the Mississippi River in Mississippi and Louisiana. Warmer, drier conditions and competition from invasive species will stress the cool-climate plants and animals native to this area.
The original USGS press release can be found here.
Photos Top: Catawba rhododendron blooming at Round Bald, an example of a southern Appalachian bald ecosystem, in the Pisgah and Cherokee National Forest, North Carolina. Credit: Alan Cressler. Bottom: Gum Swamp, a karst-depression wetland in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee. Credit: Alan Cressler.
A new statistically downscaled climate model dataset covering the conterminous U.S. is now available for download in the USGS GeoData Portal. This dataset is called MACAv2-METDATA and it contains daily downscaled meteorological and hydrological projections for the conterminous U.S. at 4-km resolution. The dataset includes the following variables:
Maximum & minimum temperature
Maximum & minimum relative humidity- the amount of moisture in the air compared to what the air can ‘hold’ at that temperature.
Specific humidity- the ratio of the mass of water vapor in the air to the total mass of air
Downward shortwave solar radiation- shortwave energy from the Sun that reaches the land-surface
Eastward & northward wind
Here’s what you need to know:
What is Statistical Downscaling?
Statistical downscaling is one of two methods (the other is dynamical downscaling) that uses climate data produced at a large scale (such as global) to make predictions about future climate at a smaller scale (such as a particular watershed). The downscaling process generates information that is useful for making decisions and adapting to the impacts of climate change on a local or regional scale. A number of statistical downscaling methods exist, one of which is MACA.
What is MACA?
MACA stands for ‘Multivariate Adaptive Constructed Analogs’ (Abatzoglou and Brown, 2012) and is a new method for downscaling Global Climate Models (GCMs). There are several types of GCMs, and MACA used model outputs from the Coupled Model Inter-comparison project (CMIP5). The method also requires the use of a training dataset— an observational dataset of the variables, downscaled to a smaller resolution. This product used METDATA (Abatzoglou, 2011) as a training dataset, a meteorological dataset at 4-km resolution. The benefits of MACA include the fact that it provides a number of key meteorological variables and that it allows for the consideration of extreme climate events.
How can this data be used?
This dataset can be used to predict future climate conditions at local and regional scales throughout the conterminous United States. Once conditions are predicted, vulnerable areas can be identified and prioritized for adaptation efforts. This dataset represents an important step towards predicting future climate scenarios in the U.S. at scales that are important to resource managers.
How can this data be accessed?
This dataset can be downloaded from the USGS GeoData Portal (GDP). The GDP houses large datasets, often the products of large-scale modeling efforts such as climate downscaling, and makes these datasets easier for scientists, managers, and the public to access and process the information for additional analyses.
Our national parks play a critical role in protecting wildlife and ecosystems in an ever evolving landscape. Climate change, however, is one threat that can’t be stopped by park boundaries. National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan Jarvis has called climate change “the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced”. From retreating glaciers in Alaska to severe drought in the Southwest, climate change is set to dramatically alter our national parks, preserves, and other protected areas.
August 25, 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, formed in 1916 to oversee the expansion of what was at the time a small network of parks and monuments. The network has since grown to include over 400 protected areas.
Continuing to protect these parks into the future requires an understanding of how climate change has and will impact parks. Tasked with identifying the effects of climate change on wildlife and ecosystems, the Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs), managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC), have conducted research projects that inform this critical issue. These projects have been geared towards helping park managers adapt to climate change by providing vital information on the implications of climate change for parks.
To celebrate the NPS centennial, we’ve highlighted 10 CSC and NCCWSC projects that provide a snapshot of our work in national parks:
Acadia National Park, Maine
Located on Maine’s rugged coast, Acadia has miles of rocky shoreline, vast networks of streams, lakes, and wetlands, and is home to the tallest mountain on the North Atlantic seaboard. With 338 known bird species, it’s also a bird-watcher’s paradise. Unfortunately, the threats of climate change to Acadia are numerous, and include sea-level rise, heightened storm surge, heavier rainfall, and invasive species. To help park staff prepare for and adapt to climate change, researchers with the Northeast CSC are working to identify a range of possible climate change scenarios that could affect the park within the next 25 years. Such scenario planning enables managers to adapt to climate change in the face of uncertainty, by considering multiple plausible futures for the park. Learn more>>Photo: Acadia National Park (Kristi Rugg, NPS)
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
The barrier islands of Cape Lookout National Seashore entice visitors with remote beaches, wild horses, and cultural attractions such as the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (completed in 1859) and the historic buildings of Portsmouth Village (established in 1753). Climate change will affect Cape Lookout beyond just warming temperatures and changing precipitation. More frequent heat waves, drought, floods, and a longer frost-free season are all expected. Sea-level rise also poses a big threat to these low-lying islands. Focusing on the park’s cultural resources, researchers with the Southeast CSC are developing a strategy for assessing the vulnerability of cultural resources to climate change to help guide cultural resource decision-makers at Cape Lookout and across the country. Learn more >>Photo: Cape Lookout National Seashore (Erin Seekamp)
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park is a renowned wetland ecosystem that provides critical habitat for 30 threatened and endangered species, such as Florida’s iconic manatee and the elusive Florida panther. This ecosystem is recognized worldwide for its importance—it is designated as a World Heritage Site and a Wetland of International Importance. As part of a project exploring the potential effects of climate change on Florida’s ecosystems and biodiversity, researchers with NCCWSC examined how sea-level rise has impacted Everglades National Park and may continue to impact the park in the future. Findings show that sea-level rise not only increases water levels, but it also increases water salinity, which could spell change for the entire ecosystem. Learn more >>Photo: Alligator, Everglades National Park (NPS)
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Remote Dry Tortugas National Park, located 70 miles west of Key West, is mostly comprised of open water, with the exception of 7 small islands. The park is home to a number of threatened and endangered species, including 5 species of sea turtle. In fact, the park is the most active sea turtle nesting site in the Florida Keys. The park’s sea turtles were the focus of a project spearheaded by researchers with the Southeast CSC, in which the movements of breeding green sea turtles were tracked. Green turtles can be highly migratory, and understanding their movements and habitat use is a priority for ongoing conservation efforts for this species, which is endangered in Florida. This work is part of a larger project assessing the vulnerability of sea turtle nesting grounds to climate change. Learn more >>Photo: Green sea turtle, Dry Tortugas National Park (Ed Lyman, NOAA)
Badlands National Park, South Dakota & Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, North Dakota
In the face of climate change, the future of the northern Great Plains is uncertain. Two protected areas in this region, Badlands National Park (South Dakota) and Knife River Indian Villages National Historical Site (North Dakota), are the focus of a project seeking to clarify what the future may look like for the Northern Plains. Researchers from the North Central CSC are drawing on global climate models to identify a range of plausible future climate scenarios for the region. A series of workshops will then help managers explore different management options under each scenario, enabling them to be proactive in the face of uncertainty. As a final step, simulation modeling will be used to help managers answer the "what if" questions surrounding how certain actions might affect resources, under the different scenarios. Learn more >>Photo: Bison, Badlands National Park (NPS)
Olympic National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, & Cascades National Park, Washington
The alpine landscapes of Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades national parks offer a diverse range of ecosystems, from lowland forests to montane wetlands—the latter of which are thought to be among the most sensitive ecosystems to climate change. To better understand the effects of climate change on the region’s biologically rich wetlands, researchers from the Northwest CSC monitored changes in the water level and extent of wetlands in the three parks and forecasted their future hydrologic conditions. Results show that montane wetlands will become increasingly dry due to factors such as reduced snowpack and longer summer droughts. Amphibians, such as the Cascades frog, rely on wetlands for breeding and are at risk of local extinction due to the loss of suitable wetland habitat. Learn more >>Photo: Mount Rainier National Park (Alan Cressler)
Kings Canyon National Park, Sequoia National Park, & Yosemite National Park, California
Research shows that climate change is already increasing the frequency and severity of drought. To help guide resource managers engaged in climate adaptation efforts, researchers with the Southwest CSC, along with collaborators, are examining whether a key forest management tool - prescribed fire - can increase forest resistance to severe drought in three California parks: Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite. So far, results have shown that when some trees are removed by prescribed fire, the remaining trees are more likely to survive during future drought, possibly because they face less competition for water. This information will help managers better understand how they can take action to lessen the impacts of drought and improve the health of forests. Learn more >>Photo: Yosemite National Park (Alberto Cruz)
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'i
As its name implies, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes: Kīlauea and Mauna Loa. From sea to summit, the park protects a wide diversity of species and ecosystems, including 23 species of endangered vascular plants and 15 species of endangered trees. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are already being felt across the Hawaiian Islands, and understanding how climate change may impact the park’s plants is vital for their long-term survival. Researchers with the Pacific Islands CSC are identifying how plant distributions within the park may shift as the climate changes. This information will help park managers determine how management strategies may need to change in order to remain effective in light of these new species distributions. Learn more >>Photo: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park (Alan Cressler)
Haleakalā National Park & Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai'i
High elevation plant communities in Hawai’i are expected to be altered by climate change, as conditions become hotter and drier and as invasive species move upslope. Researchers supported by the Pacific Islands CSC are working to characterize the subalpine vegetation communities found in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Haleakalā National Park. Subalpine vegetation occurs in a transition zone between dense forest and higher elevation treeless tundra. Researchers will first identify how plants respond to environmental factors such as precipitation and elevation. This information will then be used to help predict future vegetation changes that may occur in these subalpine communities, and to identify how to best protect them against non-native plant invasions that may increase as temperatures warm. Learn more >>Photo: Haleakalā National Park (NPS)
Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska
Alaska’s national parks draw millions of visitors each year, primarily during the warmer summer months. As temperatures in the state rise due to climate change, it’s possible that the tourist season could expand in length. Researchers with several CSCs (Alaska, Northwest, Southwest, and Pacific Islands) helped examine the potential effects of climate change on visitor use in three Alaskan parks: Denali, Gates of the Arctic, and Katmai. Researchers found a strong relationship between temperature and visitor use at all three parks, suggesting that as temperatures warm the peak tourist season could expand by as much as two months. This information will help park managers and the tourism industry anticipate and plan for future management needs. Learn more >>Photo: Grizzly Bears, Katmai National Park & Preserve (NPS)
New research from North Carolina State University finds that bees in urban areas stick to a flower-nectar diet, steering clear of processed sugars found in soda and other junk food.
“Urban habitats are growing, as is urban beekeeping, and we wanted to see if bee diets in cities are different from those in rural areas,” says Clint Penick, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and lead author of a paper on the study. “For example, we wanted to know if there are even enough flowers in urban areas to support bee populations, or if bees are turning to human sugar sources, like old soda.”
To find out, the researchers collected worker honey bees (Apis mellifera) from 39 colonies across rural and urban areas within 30 miles of Raleigh, North Carolina. Twenty-four of the colonies were managed by beekeepers; the remaining 15 colonies were feral.
The researchers then analyzed the carbon isotopes in the bee samples to determine what proportion of their diet came from processed sugars — like table sugar and corn syrup — as opposed to flower nectar.
Animals, including bees, incorporate the carbon from food into their bodies. One type of carbon, carbon-13, is associated with grasses such as corn and sugar cane. Researchers can tell how much processed sugar bees consume by measuring each bee’s carbon-13 levels. The researchers took a similar approach in a previous study that evaluated the diet of ants in New York City.
Because beekeepers often supplement their bees’ diet with sugar water, researchers anticipated that domesticated bees would show that a significant proportion of their diet came from processed sugar — especially in urban areas, where the bees would have easy access to soda cans, garbage and other sources of processed sugar. The researchers also predicted that feral bees in rural areas would show virtually no processed sugar in their diet, but that feral bees in urban areas would show evidence of consuming processed sugars.
To their surprise, the researchers found that there was no evidence that urban bees consumed more processed sugar than their rural counterparts. However, domesticated bees did show evidence of consuming significantly more processed sugar than feral bees in both urban and rural environments, which is likely due to beekeepers supplementing their bees’ diet with sugar.
“Basically, bees are relying on flowers in cities and are not turning to human foods to supplement their diet,” Penick says. “This is good news for urban beekeepers. The honey in their hives is mostly coming from flower nectar and not old soda, which is what we originally guessed.”
However, it’s not clear if this would hold true for the biggest cities.
“Our findings are based on research in a mid-sized city,” Penick says. “Even the most urban areas of Raleigh have more than 50 percent open green space. By comparison, the average site in New York City has only 10 percent green space. So more work needs to be done to evaluate bee diets in our largest cities.”
If these findings hold, they suggest that urban flowers and green spaces play an important role in maintaining healthy pollinator populations in cities.
The paper, “The contribution of human foods to honey bee diets in a mid-sized metropolis,” is published online in the Journal of Urban Ecology. The paper was co-authored by NC State’s Catherine Crofton, Holden Appler, Steven Frank, Rob Dunn and David Tarpy. The work was supported by the NC State Beekeepers Association, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the CALS Dean’s Enrichment Grant, and the Southeast Climate Science Center, which is managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center.
The original press release from NC State can be found here.
Photo: Honey bee extracts nectar from flower. Credit: John Severns
Published Date: January 18th, 2018
The U.S. Geological Survey has released a Program Announcement via Grants.gov to request applications to host Climate Science Centers (CSCs) in four regions. Three of these – Alaska, Northwest and Southeast – are re-competitions of the hosting arrangements currently in place in those regions. The fourth is a planned new CSC that would be created by splitting the Northeast CSC region, which presently encompasses all or part of 22 states. This new region would be comprised of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Kentucky (see a map of the proposed region here). This proposal was announced in the President’s FY2017 budget, and establishment of the CSC is contingent upon Congressional action on that proposal.
The program announcement invites proposals to host each CSC (including identification of consortium partners), and to determine if their proposed science, partnership, and program support activities and strategies are appropriate to serve in these roles.
To facilitate the financial assistance application process, a series of conference calls or webinars will be conducted by the NCCWSC to accommodate inquiries from Applicants about this program and the proposal review, evaluation, and selection process.
These 2-hour sessions will be scheduled as follows: May 17, 2016 at 2:00 P.M. EDT, Eastern Daylight Time May 18, 2016 at 1:00 P.M. EDT, Eastern Daylight Time Interested applicants should email Kristen Donahue, email@example.com, to obtain call-in/web address information.
Scientists across the country are actively working to conduct research and produce scientific information and knowledge about the ways in which climate change is affecting fish, wildlife, and ecosystems. Not only will this information help advance our scientific understanding as a society, but it can also be directly used by resource managers and decision-makers to help protect important natural resources and to help plan for the future.
Providing scientific information that resource managers can use to inform decisions, however, is not always as easy or straight-forward as it might seem. For example, before starting a research project, scientists and managers may need to meet to discuss the management questions and priorities that need to be addressed. Moreover, once a project is completed, the scientific findings and information must be communicated to managers in a way that is understandable and relevant. These two-way efforts to bring together scientists and managers to develop useful scientific information are often referred to as “knowledge coproduction” (i.e. rather than managers being simply the “end-users” of science, scientists and managers work together to coproduce the scientific knowledge).
Organizations such as the regional DOI Climate Science Centers and the USDA Climate Hubs are working to bring together scientists and managers and to strengthen efforts to coproduce knowledge. Last November, at a Climate Change Conference in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean Climate Hub conducted a series of recorded interviews on topics related to science coproduction and communications. The interviews include a 2-part discussion with Dr. Jerry McMahon, USGS Director of the Southeast Climate Science Center. The short interviews with Dr. McMahon are now available online (see links below). Check out the videos to learn more about the importance of effective science communication and the benefits of having scientists work together with managers and other “science users”.
Image: Scientists and managers gather together on a southeast beach, Credit: Mitch Eaton, USGS
Published Date: January 18th, 2018
From forest to grassland, desert to ocean, many wildlife species are already “feeling the heat” from climate change. Scientists, supported by the eight regional Department of the Interior Climate Science Centers (CSCs) (which are managed by the USGS National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center), are actively striving to learn more about what climate change effects on wildlife will look like, whether or not species will be able to adapt and survive, and what natural resource managers can do to help. Here are eight animals that provide a glimpse into how climate change is impacting wildlife across the country.
As temperatures increase there will likely be more big fire years in Alaska, and this is expected to considerably change caribou habitat. For example, wildfire can destroy slow growing lichens in black spruce forests – a highly nutritious and important winter food source for caribou. Loss of winter habitat for caribou caused by fires in spruce forests could also ultimately affect subsistence hunters who rely on caribou for nutritional, cultural, and economic reasons. Learn more about our research >>
2. Loggerhead Sea Turtle
Atlantic sea turtles such as the threatened loggerhead are especially vulnerable to coastal climate change impacts. Loggerhead sea turtles spend most of their lives in the ocean, but every couple years, females come ashore about four or five times per nesting season to lay eggs. These turtles rely on a large area of the southeastern U.S. coastline and have been found to travel as far as 250 miles from one nest to the next! Coastal climate change impacts like rising sea levels, increasing storm frequency, and changing temperature and humidity threaten to eliminate or impair the beaches that loggerheads use for nesting. Learn more about our research >>
3. Snowshoe Hare
Snowshoe hares have evolved the ability to change fur color during different seasons (white in the presence of snow and brown in warmer seasons) in order to camouflage with their surroundings and hide from predators, like lynx and bobcats. Climate change, however, is causing snow in many areas to melt earlier than the hares have grown accustomed to, leaving stark white hares exposed in non-white, snow-less landscapes. Hares are critical players in forest ecosystems, because they are an important prey source for many carnivore species. This increased exposure and vulnerability could cause such high mortality rates that hare populations could rapidly decline, ultimately affecting the entire forest ecosystem. Learn more about our research >>
4. Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic salmon spend most of their adult lives in the sea, but return to the cool freshwater streams of Maine to breed and lay eggs. Northeastern Atlantic salmon are already endangered, and climate change may further threaten their survival. In particular, warming water temperatures and changing patterns of streamflow are problematic for Atlantic salmon. Such changes may reduce the amount of habitat suitable for nesting, decrease the number of eggs that survive, and disrupt the growth and development of young.Learn more about our research >>
5. Hawaiian ‘I‘iwi
The Hawaiian ‘I‘iwi is a native forest bird species found only in the Hawaiian Islands. Like many Hawaiian forest birds, it is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. One of the major reasons for the recent decline in Hawaiian forest birds is their extreme sensitivity to avian malaria, which is spread by a species of introduced mosquito. For decades, these birds have been able to find refuge from the disease in upper mountain forests, where mosquitoes couldn’t survive the cooler temperatures. However, warmer temperatures associated with climate change are now allowing mosquitoes to move up the mountains, possibly making avian malaria inescapable. Learn more about our research >>
6. Wyoming Mule Deer
Herds of mule deer in Wyoming migrate each spring from low elevation winter habitat ranges to higher elevation mountain summer ranges. During migration, mule deer “surf the green wave”, following the greenest vegetation as it gradually emerges throughout the spring from low to high elevation areas. This vegetation also provides high quality food that allows deer to gain enough fat in the summer. However, drought (worsened by climate change) can change the timing and pattern of new vegetation growth and make it more difficult for migrating deer to follow the plants. Learn more about our research >>
7. Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout
The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is a native stream-dwelling trout species found only in the clear waterways of New Mexico and southern Colorado. (Fun fact: The cutthroat trout is the official state fish of New Mexico!) Over the years, Rio Grande cutthroat trout have lost about 85-90% of their historic habitat, mostly due to human development and competition with non-native species, like rainbow trout. The habitat that remains consists of small, separated areas. Reduced summer streamflow and drought, triggered by climate change, pose major threats to the survival of Rio Grande cutthroat trout, because they will make it even more difficult for the fish to travel between areas of suitable habitat. Learn more about our research >>
8. Greater Sage-Grouse
Changing temperature and precipitation patterns have favored non-native cheatgrass, allowing it to spread across much of the southwestern U.S. As cheatgrass cover has increased across the region, so has the extent and frequency of fire – by as much as 200%! In turn, fire is eliminating sagebrush and native grasses in which many native animals, including greater sage-grouse, breed and feed. As sagebrush habitat disappears over time, so may the greater sage-grouse, which depends on this habitat and lives nowhere else in the world. Learn more about our research >>