By the middle of the century, the Baltimore oriole may no longer live in Maryland. And the brown pelican—the state bird of Louisiana—may no longer live in Louisiana. Thousands of other species are also likely to move as they try to adapt to a climate change.
"The paper tried to get a big-picture view of how thousands of species may need to move in response to climate change, and where some of the hotspots would be for that connectivity," says Brad McRae, a senior landscape ecologist at the Nature Conservancy and one of the co-authors of the paper. "Where we're going to have species all running through the same fire exits, where they might be able to move short distances or long distances—and how that affects the way we have to do conservation."
While species have shifted to new habitats in the past, one of the added challenges now is human development that blocks their path. In the eastern United States, less than 2% of natural areas are still connected enough for species to move as their former habitats change. Across the country as a whole, 41% of land has enough connectivity.
A handful of large efforts are trying to build pathways for animals to move. The Yellowstone-to-Yukon project is designed to help species migrate north as the U.S. warms. The Wildlands Network is building four "continental wildways" to help wildlife move. In Florida, the huge Nokuse Plantation is designed to connect other protected lands.
In other cases, some cities are considering building natural-looking pathways over freeways. "Those are pretty expensive initiatives," says McRae. "I think they're important. But at the other end of the spectrum, I think we can also find ways to make working lands more permeable to animals . . . and, for example, improve highway underpasses to make them more wildlife-friendly."
The new map, programmed by Nature Conservancy cartographer Dan Majka, is designed to help people understand the importance of building those pathways with so many animals on the move—particularly in areas like the Amazon Basin and southeastern U.S., where animal traffic is likely to be especially heavy.
"Climate change is going to mean that a lot of species will have to move," says McRae. "We just need conservation efforts to help species go where they need to go."
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