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  • Writer's pictureBruce Smith

Disappearing Climates & Biodiversity

Protected areas are biodiversity reservoirs around the globe. But as the warming of the planet's climate accelerates, species using these havens may be forced to shift their distributions (if they're able) to or through areas that are no longer protected. “Climate change is going to affect everything on Earth,” said Sean Parks, a research ecologist with the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute. “When most protected areas were established, it was assumed the climate was not changing.”

Just as Joshua Tree National Park may be incapable of supporting its namesake by this century's end, species dependent on a host of climates worldwide are at risk. For example, cold- and ice-dependent species--such as polar bears and penguins, or Glacier National Park's diminutive meltwater stonefly--may be unable to find or relocate to suitable habitats. Mobile species that attempt range shifts will inevitably encounter new survival challenges as they traverse human-dominated and degraded landscapes. Transboundary shifts to new countries, or continents, will be challenged by physical (e.g. fencing) and non-physical barriers (e.g. contrasting conservation policies). Read the details in this 2022 study published in Environmental Research Letters.

These growing realities raise the question: Is conservation, or humankind more broadly, obligated to assist relocations if species are deemed doomed to extinction where they now live? A topic for a future blog post.


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