Climate change forcing mass relocation

Climate change forcing mass relocation
The red-necked phalarope rarely, if ever, breeds in Ireland now

The likely impacts of climate change on wildlife reserves in the US has been examined by researchers at the University of Washington. 

They looked at 1,460 species of plant and animal in protected areas. 

About 14% of the species will suffer if left where they are; just maintaining existing reserves won’t ensure their survival. 

New, cooler areas need to be set aside, to where vulnerable creatures can move as temperatures rise. 

Nor will it be sufficient just to provide such sites. Corridors must be created, along which animals and plants can travel to the new locations.

People around the world are moving on an unprecedented scale. They are fleeing warmer regions mostly, seeking sanctuary in Europe and North America. 

The exodus may be politically driven, but the ravages of climate change are often an underlying factor. Much of North Africa is becoming uninhabitable. 

What future has Australia as warming accelerates?

Animals, too, are moving. Fish from warmer waters are turning up off Irish coasts. 

A hammerhead shark was sighted recently. 

There are winners and losers. The outlook is bleak for Irish salmon; fewer are returning to our rivers to spawn.

In a warming Atlantic, their feeding areas are shifting northwards. 

Are the longer journeys exposing them to increased risk? 

Are salmon from Nordic and Icelandic rivers, with shorter distances to travel, out-competing them for food?

Spratts and sand-eels are also moving house, inducing the seabirds that feed on them to follow suit.

Are the days of our great seabird breeding colonies numbered? Land-based birds, too, are voting with their wings. 

The red-necked phalarope, which nested in Mayo, is gone. So is the nightjar. 

Ring-ouzels find our mountains too warm for nesting. Fieldfares and redwings, once abundant in the countryside, are much thinner on the ground nowadays. 

The murmurations of visiting starlings are less impressive than they were.

Fewer wildfowl and wading birds now spend the winter here. 

Some, such as the Bewick’s swan, find wintering haunts, rendered habitable by higher temperatures, closer to home. 

Global warming fingerprints are everywhere.

On the plus side of the climate change equation, little egrets have set up shop here most successfully. 

Cattle egrets, hoopoes, and Cetti’s warblers may soon do likewise. 

Will humpback whales breed in Irish waters? 

The Kerry slug hails from the Iberian Peninsula, where conditions are changing. Is southwest Ireland now the stronghold of this remarkable species?

Can existing nature reserves in Europe protect vulnerable species into the future or is alternative accommodation required for creatures likely to go to the wall in a relentlessly warming environment? 

Ireland, being an island, has few relocation options. 

Birds and fish are free to come and go, but mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and creepy-crawlies are trapped here. 

Others, displaced in mainland Europe, can’t cross the sea to us unless we transport them.

Alternative sites come at a cost. 

However, when everything is considered, “protecting some types of climatic refugia may be a relatively inexpensive adaptation strategy”, the Washington researchers claim.

Joshua Lawler et al. Planning for climate change through additions to a national protected area network: implications for cost and configuration. Proceeding of the Royal Society B. 2020.

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