A Moment of Science

Assisted Migration: Global Warming To Cause Early Migration

As you probably already know, when climate changes, life changes with it. But recent alterations in the Earth's climate could have very damaging consequences.

Countless birds sit on a tree limbs.

Photo: dsb nola (Flickr)

Because of recent climate changes, scientists predict that global warming will cause 15 to 37% of species to become extinct by 2050.

As the planet warms, plants bud earlier, animals migrate earlier, and many species move to higher latitudes where temperatures are more suitable to their survival.

There’s nothing out of the ordinary about climate change in general, or species’ responses to it. Earth has been shifting between ice ages and warm periods since long before humans came on the scene.

Global Warming To Cause Extinction

The current warming trend is different though. This warming is happening to a planet that is already quite warm, it’s happening unusually quickly, and human settlements complicate species’ abilities to relocate.

The situation is dire enough that scientists predict that global warming will cause 15 to 37% of species to become extinct by 2050.

These staggering numbers have gotten conservationists discussing a radical technique called assisted migration. It involves picking up and moving species. It’s a strategy that makes conservationists nervous for a number of reasons.

Species Relocation

For starters, in order to relocate species, better data is needed as to their current habitat ranges. Second, species’ survival depends upon more than just climate.

If transplanted, they could run into other problems, such as inadequate food sources. Third, transplanted species become invasive species. If they do thrive, it could be to the detriment of native species.

Even if conservationists do agree to employ assisted migration on a large scale, they face the difficult decision as to which species to try to help. They can’t possibly relocate every species in danger.

If conservationists had it their way, global warming would be halted. It looks, though, as if assisted migration, despite all its complications, may be necessary to save some of the planet’s biodiversity.

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