Monday, February 19, 2018

Climate Change stresses the stressors that stress wildlife

Climate Change can quickly undo many of the long, hard-won adaptations wildlife have accomplished to survive in a specific climate. Presently, our very quickly warming climate is changing too fast for some species to adapt: “…warmer temperatures equals spoiled food equals Gray Jay nests failing en masse.” (from article below)

Spoiler Alert: Can Gray Jays Survive Warmer Weather? They’re the warm-blooded creature that goes to great lengths to survive boreal cold blasts of minus 40 degrees, yet their future in Algonquin Park is threatened because the weather is getting mellow. It’s that last irony—the climate change connection—that Norris, an ecology professor at Ontario’s University of Guelph, is studying. He’s the third generation of principal investigators on a research project that stretches back over a half-century in Algonquin Park. For the past 40 years, the project has documented a stark downward trend: a 50 percent decline in the study’s Gray Jay population since 1977.. (January 8, 2018) The Cornel Lab of Ornithology (More on Wildlife and Climate Change in our area]

We need wildlife to keep our ecosystems healthy, but most wildlife cannot adapt quickly enough to Climate Change. We need to include wildlife into our Climate Change action plans.

To Survive, These Animals Must Lose Their Camouflage How can the snowshoe hare and Arctic fox thrive in a climate-changed world, where there’s less snow to blend in with? On December 4, 1920, a 14-year-old boy saw something extraordinary while walking in the central Wisconsin woods. Snowshoe hares, all of them with vibrant white fur, “were hopping about on fallen leaves that had no snow covering,” he wrote. “The month was unusually mild, with practically no snow until the middle of the period.” It was like a vision: The animals almost glowed against the sullen, early-winter soil. The sight so stuck with him that he described it in a scientific paper 13 years later. By that time, Wallace Byron Grange had demonstrated an intelligence, a precociousness, and a flair for prose style that matched his middle name. At 22, he had been appointed Wisconsin’s first-ever game commissioner; now, at 27, he was a publishing zoologist as well. He was particularly fascinated by snowshoe hares—and their mysterious annual change of costume. (February 15, 2018) The Atlantic [more on Wildlife and Climate Change in our area]

Many wildlife in our New York region are going to find adapting to Climate Change a serious challenge. Some, like amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, will need to move to cooler places but will find our myriad transportation infrastructures hindering them. (In fact, they already are, think roadkill.) Fish in our region, which have adapted to frigid waters, are going to need to swim to warmer parts of our streams and rivers without being impeded by our built obstructions. Think dams. Even birds, who you’d think would just fly where they need to go, have adapted to migrating to precise places where their meals synced with their arrival. [See “Migratory birds bumped off schedule as climate change shifts spring” (May 15, 201, Science News)] Adapted behavior in wildlife don’t turn on a dime; they take many generations to change.

Whether you like wildlife, like to hunt or fish them or just watch them, we need our wildlife. Their existence was instrumental in designing our environment. Herbivores ate the plants, carnivores ate the herbivores, and they all dispersed seeds, which helped determined which plants and wildlife thrived. And even though we have radically changed our environment, including developing land for cities and agriculture, drying up wetlands, killing off predators, and polluting our waters, we still need the creatures that make our environment work.

So, along with ourselves, we are going to have to help our wildlife adapt to Climate Change. How do we do that? Is there a comprehensive (for that is what it will take) state program for that? Kinda.

The New York State Environmental Conservation agency understands the perils of Climate Change. Check out New York Tackles Climate Change. But it’s not clear that this awareness extends to wildlife management. For example, when you check the DEC’s Wildlife Management Areas (WMA), you won’t find a whole lot of information on wildlife and Climate Change. Mostly, you see a vast compilation of information, regulations, and data on how to keep our hunters and anglers supplied with game.

But wait. When you check out the Wildlife Health section of the DEC website and scroll down a bit you’ll find this:

WILDLIFE HEALTH PROGRAM STRATEGIC PLAN 2011 – 2015 “Wildlife are integral to a healthy, diverse ecosystem and the health of wildlife is closely intertwined with that of human and domestic animals. While disease and death are part of the normal life cycle that maintains a balanced ecosystem, factors such as the introduction of an invasive species or new and emerging disease, climate change, habitat destruction and human development can alter the equilibrium so that the health and long term well‐being of a species is threatened. The goal of the Wildlife Health Program is to    identify and monitor both infectious and non‐infectious diseases in wildlife populations, put that information to use in making sound management decisions, and to be prepared to intervene where necessary to ensure that New York has sustainable, robust and diverse wildlife populations for the future. (NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION)

Ah hah, ‘climate change’! Though buried as one of the things that could potentially upset a ‘balanced ecosystem’, addressing Climate Change is clearly an aspect of wildlife management that the DEC understands. Wildlife that keeps our ecosystems viable or ‘balanced’ describes the environmental hegemony that makes Earth’s environment tick. 

This is an interesting point from the report: “The relationship between wildlife, domestic animals and humans in a shared environment is complex and interdependent.” The idea is that we now have a shared environment, which is to say, we didn’t used to. Although wildlife in no way were dependent on humanity to thrive before humanity came along, they are now especially dependent on us to keep them healthy. No aspect of wildlife life is unaffected by humanity and our infrastructures. 

Understanding that if our wildlife isn’t healthy, we aren’t likely to be either is a crucial aspect of adapting to Climate Change. When the engineers of our life-support system die, we won’t be around much longer either.

Climate change stresses the stressors (warmer climate, invasive species, droughts, floods, diseases, health, food availability, and habitat destruction) that stress wildlife

We and our wildlife friends are deeply connected. When contemplating the connection with Wildlife and Climate Change, we must not see Climate Change simply as one of the ‘stressors’ for Wildlife. 

Our management of wildlife needs to be viewed through the lens of Climate Change because the great warming will not only stress wildlife, it’s going to stress every being on this planet—just as past climate changes were a primary cause in Earth’s mass extinction events.

Alarming new study makes today’s climate change more comparable to Earth’s worst mass extinction “All in all, the parallels between the many mass extinction events in the geological record and today’s climate change offer no comfort about the legacy we’re leaving for our children and our grandchildren. Rather they stand as signposts for an increasingly scary future.” (April 2, 2014 Skeptical Science)

Time passes.

My articles on Climate Change and wildlife: Speak up for wildlife as they try to adapt to Climate Change (June 21, 2015)

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