As climate change begins to bite, the temperature changes will have a significant impact on the world’s wildlife. This will manifest itself most clearly in the alteration of the distribution of species, which will in turn have a significant impact on people right around the globe.
A new study, published in the journal Science, has calculated the speed at which creatures have been shifting their ranges. The researchers found that land-based animals have been moving towards the poles at a rate of around 17 kilometers (10 miles) per decade, while those in the oceans have been going at a much speedier pace of roughly 72 kilometers (44 miles) per decade.
These shifts in animal communities could have a profound impact not only on the species in question, but those in the new environments they invade, as well as on human populations that rely on them, and the knock on effect they could have on human health.
Some parts of the world are already experiencing these shifts in species, which tend to lag behind the temperature changes. Kelp forests off the west coast of Australia, for example, are starting to disappear and be replaced with seaweed turfs, as tropical herbivorous fish move south and consume the kelp. How this will affect ecosystems on a wider level, from species composition to algal blooms, is not yet completely understood.
Shifts in fisheries will have a massive impact on the human communities and nations that depend on them. While the animals clearly recognize no borders, people don’t have the ability to follow the resources due to territory boundaries. This is sure to create future conflict and strife. In fact, such situations are already being seen, as reflected by the “mackerel wars” currently playing out in the north Atlantic.
“Climate-driven species redistributions shouldn’t only be a concern for conservation biologists – they should worry everyone,” explains co-author Dr Nathalie Pettorelli in a statement. “Nations are far from being equally equipped to deal with the consequences of this redistribution of biodiversity, and the world as a whole isn’t adequately prepared to handle the range of issues emerging from species moving across local, national, and international jurisdictional boundaries.”
But the problems may not stop there. Animals frequently act as reservoirs for diseases that can have huge impacts on people, the most obvious being mosquitoes carrying malaria. It is thought that climate change will increase the suitability for insects that breed and transmit the disease in Central Europe and North America. But there are plenty of other animals that could also be an issue, from birds to bats.
There will be a myriad of issues related to wildlife and conservation as a result of climate change, many of which we are yet to conceive of.