A safe haven could be out of reach for 9 percent of the Western Hemisphere's mammals, and as much as 40 percent in certain regions, because the animals just won't move swiftly enough to outpace climate change.
For the past decade scientists have outlined new areas suitable for mammals likely to be displaced as climate change first makes their current habitat inhospitable, then unlivable. For the first time a new study considers whether mammals will actually be able to move to those new areas before they are overrun by climate change. Carrie Schloss, University of Washington research analyst in environmental and forest sciences, is lead author of the paper out online the week of May 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We underestimate the vulnerability of mammals to climate change when we look at projections of areas with suitable climate but we don't also include the ability of mammals to move, or disperse, to the new areas," Schloss said.
Indeed, more than half of the species scientists have in the past projected could expand their ranges in the face of climate change will, instead, see their ranges contract because the animals won't be able to expand into new areas fast enough, said co-author Joshua Lawler, UW associate professor of environmental and forest sciences.