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Climate Change Will Cause Massive Movement Of Wildlife, Study Says

Gopher tortoise
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

By Jessica Meszaros

A new study describes the future mass redistribution of plants and animals on Earth due to climate change.  The research conducted by the University of Florida and the University of Tasmania appears in the journal Nature Climate Change. An author of the study says Florida is already experiencing this migration due to global warming. Brett Scheffers, a professor of  wildlife ecology at UF, spoke with WUSF's Jessica Meszaros.

JM:  What is climate change doing in terms of migrating animals?

BS: Every species occurs in a place because it has a climate that it prefers. It has resources that it prefers. And with climate change, you know, plants are responding to the increasing temperatures or changes in rainfall. And if plants move and habitats move, then animals move, as well. So basically, what we're going to see is... you, me, our neighbors...basically, in the future, we're going to experience a lot of events-- like extreme weather events here in Florida would be hurricanes or droughts. And at the same time we're also going to see kind of the arrival of and the departure of species in response to changing climates.

What caused you to highlight this? Why should people care?

The way we think about species is really like our fondness for species occurs along a gradient from good to bad, right? I mean, so there are good species. These could be species that we think are beautiful. It could be species that have recreational value... let's say fish species, or animals that we hunt, or birdwatching, etc.

There's lots of recreational activities and reasons we value species, but there's also the bad species, right? These could be pests, agricultural parts or even diseases. And so as these different plants and animals respond to climate change, they're going to have costs--- they're going to have benefits and costs to society, and that's something that we should take quite seriously. It basically means that we have a high level of uncertainty in our futures.

What do we think about Florida in terms of climate change and the animals here?

Florida is a unique place geographically. It's a very diverse state in the U.S. It spans from the tropics to subtropical to kind of temperate and it has a large marine area, so it has a large seascape and a large landscape. Relative to the other states in the U.S., we're ground zero for climate change impacts.

We have one of the largest shorelines of any state, so sea level rise is going to cause issues for coastal communities but it also, because it has that tropical to temperate gradient we're going to probably see a lot of tropical species moving into our temperate waters.

So for example, in marine systems you have the common snook, which is a fish that's usually found in tropical waters, it's now moving up into the northern Gulf area. Some people might say that's good. Some people might say it's bad. It's good maybe because it's a recreational species. It's bad because it's a predatory fish that might eat a lot of other species that have been here in the past it might create some management issues there.

We also will see and we have been seeing, the encroachment of mangroves from the south into salt marshes in more temperate regions and so that could create some conflict as well as mangroves take over these habitats that we identify with from our childhoods and now. So there's gonna be a lot of changing... some people will see it good and some people will see it bad. Hear an extended version of this conversation.

Climate Change Will Cause Massive Movement Of Wildlife, Study Says

Copyright 2019 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of All Things Consideredfor WGCU News.
Jessica Meszaros
Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media.