More Species Feeling the Heat

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Over the past year, this blog has highlighted several reports and articles on species likely impacted by climate change (see bottom). A recent article (“Feeling the Heat”) in Audubon Magazine (May/June 2010) adds to this growing list as it highlights certain species "whose world could change dramatically."

The following are excerpts from the article:

Atlantic Salmon            Atlantic Salmon, credit William Hartley USFWS

“North America’s wild Atlantic salmon populations have plunged from 1.8 million in the mid-1970s to fewer than 650,000 today, according to the Atlantic Salmon Federation. If the overall trend is bad, the situation is particularly dire in the United States, where a combination of dam building, habitat destruction, and acidity in rivers has depleted salmon populations to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the Maine population on the endangered species list in 2000.

Now climate change appears to be compounding the problem. Paul Santavy, a supervisory fish biologist at the Maine Fisheries Program Complex, is finding that hatchery salmon, which are living in water that’s almost too warm for them to survive, are taking cues from warmer oceans and returning to the Maine hatchery earlier in the year to spawn. “The major issues are timing,” says Santavy. “Earlier spawning results in earlier hatching periods at a time when food such as zooplankton and larval insects might be unavailable.””

American Pika             American Pika, credit: National Park Service

American Pikas are found in higher elevation areas with cool, relatively moist climates.  As temperatures rise due to increasing emissions of CO2, and other heat-trapping gases, many animals in mountain habitats are expected to seek higher elevations. Pikas, however, may not have this option as their current habitat is restricted to small, disconnected habitat “islands” in numerous mountain ranges (excerpt from WWF's online species section).

According to wildlife biologist Eric Beever, “[pikas] live at the tops of the mountains, so to get from one island—or one mountaintop—to another, they have to go down to very inhospitable valley bottoms. Pikas are probably the first or second worst species able to do that.”

“Under favorable conditions, pikas thrive, but where it’s already warmer, biologists have seen fewer individuals and believe those populations are shrinking. The pikas’ thick coats make them extremely sensitive to heat, and it is hard for them to survive for even a few hours when the temperature tops 77 degrees and they can’t find refuge.

NOAA and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate that western temperatures will rise 5.4 degrees by 2050, so pikas are clearly in trouble. Still, some federal biologists believe pikas will hang on by migrating to higher, cooler habitats and changing their behavior at hotter sites.” (see, US Government Finds that Pika is "Not at Risk" from Climate Change)

Mosquito                 Anopheles Freeborni Mosquito, credit Center for Disease Control

“In the mountainous region west of Fort Collins, Colorado, mosquitoes barely survive. That’s why it’s the ideal spot to study how rising temperatures may affect the insects, including those that transmit West Nile virus. The virus, first found in North America in 1999, has been detected in at least 326 bird species. Humans are susceptible, too, though mortality rates are low: Less than one percent of people who become infected will develop severe illness, the CDC reports.

In the northern Colorado Front Range, mosquito expert Lars Eisen is investigating the upper elevation limits for Culex West Nile vectors. His findings indicate future warming might cause the skeeters’ range to shift north, meaning the disease would likely move to higher altitudes, too. As the northern tip of a mosquito’s range warms, allowing it to move into previously uninhabitable areas, the southern limit might become too hot.”

Narwhal                       Narwhal, credit: Kristin Laidre, NOAA

“The world’s 80,000 or so narwhals are found primarily between west Greenland and the Canadian high Arctic and, to a lesser extent, off eastern Greenland. After summering in shallow, ice-free waters around northwest Greenland, Baffin Island, and Canada’s Arctic archipelago, they embark on a two-month migration to their wintering grounds, mainly in Baffin Bay and Davis Straight.

For half the year and amid extremely dense sea ice—no cetacean occupies such packed ice offshore for such a long time—they search for their primary prey, Greenland halibut. Narwhals make nearly two dozen 30-minute dives daily, to depths of up to 4,500 feet, among the deepest of all whales.

Their habitual nature, small numbers, and limited range and diet make them extremely sensitive to climate change, says a study in Ecological Applications. Global warming is already affecting the sea ice narwhals are adapted to, and will likely increase their exposure to such events as ice entrapments—phenomena caused by sudden weather changes that quickly seal cracks in dense ice, which can suffocate cetaceans. A warming ocean could have an even bigger impact on narwhals by disrupting their finely tuned ecosystems and, thus, their food source.”

Canada Lynx                Canada Lynx, credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

“The Canada lynx doesn’t ask for much—just boreal forests that stay snow-covered from December through March and offer plenty of its favorite meal: snowshoe hares. But fulfilling these needs isn’t getting any easier. Projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that by 2100, boreal forests could decline by almost a fifth across the continental United States and Canada. Records from NOAA show that the 20 hottest years on record happened in the past three decades, and that globally, we’re seeing a steady drop in annual snow cover. This spells bad news for the lynx and the hare, both of which thrive in deep, fluffy snow.” (see, Montana is barometer for climate change with species such as grizzlies, wolverines, lynx and moose as important indicators)

Vampire Bat (see picture)

“…warmer temperatures may usher some bloodsucking creatures across our southern border... The common vampire bat currently dwells in southern Mexico and up the country’s coastlines. Studies suggest you won’t find this bat anywhere the thermostat dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As North America warms, the bat’s range is expected to increase by at least a third, pushing north into parts of Texas and possibly other southern states, including Arizona and Louisiana.

“Vampire bats are a very opportunistic species,” says biologist Shahroukh Mistry. “It wouldn’t take much if the temperature limitation was removed.” Still, the shift would likely take place over decades, and other factors, like disease, might inhibit expansion.

Government agencies and biologists are interested in tracking vampire bats partly because they transmit rabies. Using their razor-sharp incisors to puncture the skin, a bat can lap up more than half its body weight in blood in a half hour. Vampire bats prefer livestock but have been known to dine on other mammals, even humans.”

Online Resources:

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