Climate Change Occurring Too Quickly For Wildlife To Adapt

Species have been adapting to climate change – manmade or otherwise – since the beginning of their existence. However, a new study suggests that changes to Earth’s climate and the resulting effects on wildlife habitat are occurring too quickly for species to respond.

Although climate change is not a new phenomenon, its magnitude and rate are occurring much faster than over the past 300 millennia – a period that includes three ice ages. In fact, between now and 2100, climate change will be dramatic enough to require species to evolve at a rate 100 times faster than has been proven possible.

The study, conducted by Indiana University researchers and published in the scientific journal PLoS Onefocused on North American rattlesnakes.

The researchers determined that the rattlesnakes migrated an average of just 2.3 meters annually over the past 320,000 years and that their tolerance to climate has evolved about 100 to 1,000 times more slowly. These findings, the researchers said, show that migration has been the only way rattlesnakes have adapted to climate changes, at least in the recent past.

“We find that, over the next 90 years, at best these species’  ranges will change more than 100 times faster than they have during the past 320,000 years,” said Michelle Lawing, lead author of the paper. “This rate of change is unlike anything these species have experienced, probably since their formation.”

Using climate-prediction models for the next 90 years, the researchers found that the rattlesnakes’ ranges would be displaced by 430 meters to 2,400 meters per year, thus indicating that the snakes would be unable to move fast enough to keep up with the changes to its habitat.

Although this particular study focused on only one species, the researchers say that because rattlesnakes depend on the environment to regulate their body temperatures, the species is representative of how climate change affects many forms of life on the planet. A warming – or drastically altered – climate, therefore, has the potential to be disastrous to not only rattlesnakes, but other species as well.


DOI: Florida Everglades Deserve More Protection

Florida’s Everglades are set to receive new protections under a new initiative proposed by the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The project would establish a new national wildlife refuge in Florida’s Kissimmee River Valley, as well as afford the area new protections. Under the program, the DOI would purchase 50,000 acres of the designated area from willing sellers in order to establish a wildlife refuge.

An additional 100,000 acres would be protected through conservation easements purchased from landowners, the DOI explains. These private landowners would still own their land, as well as retain the right to develop crops and raise cattle; however, the easements would ensure that the land could not be developed.

Although the preliminary proposal for the Everglades conservation project was first announced in January, it was refined using input from public comment periods.

The DOI’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann commented to the Associated Press that she’d be willing to drill for oil in the Everglades if it were done “responsibly.”

How she intends to destroy a World Heritage site “responsibly” is quite the enigma. But here’s hoping that the DOI can finalize the protections before she – or another member of her political party – has a crack at it.


Five Natural World-Heritage Sites Humans Are Ruining

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) List of World Heritage sites contains over 900 of the most important natural and cultural locations in world. Sadly, 34 of these properties are considered “in danger,” facing threats such as pollution, human armed conflict, poaching, uncontrolled urbanization and unchecked tourism and development.

Here are five locations where humans have made their mark, perhaps irreversibly damaging some of the world’s most biodiverse sites.

Belize Barrier Reef (Belize):

The largest barrier reef in North America, this site comprises a diverse range of coastal lagoons, mangrove forests and estuaries. Home to many threatened species – such as marine turtles, manatees and the American marine crocodile – over 425 species of plants and over 500 species of fish also inhabit the reef. Dangers to the site include heavy tourism and other human development in coastal areas.

Kahuzi-Biega National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo):

Comprising mostly tropical forest, Kahuzi-Biega National Park is named for its two extinct volcanoes: Kahuzi and Biega. The park is home to one of the last groups of eastern lowland gorillas, of which only about 150 individuals remain, according to UNESCO. Kahuzi-Biega National Park is located in one of the most densely populated areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, posing a continuous threat to the park and its flora and fauna, including endangered species.

Rainforests of the Atsinanana (Madagascar):

This World Heritage site comprises six national parks in eastern Madagascar, one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet. The African island is home to over 12,000 endemic plant species and several primate groups, including several species of lemurs. Madagascar’s Atsinanana Rainforests are critical to maintaining the island’s unique ecosystem and biodiversity, UNESCO says, but they continue to be threatened by deforestation.

Garamba National Park (Democratic Republic of the Congo):

Located in the northeastern part of the Congo, near the Sudanese border, Garamba National Park lies between the Nile and Zaire rivers. Savannahs, grasslands, woodlands, forests and swamps make up the landscape, which is home to animals such as elephants, giraffes, hippos, chimpanzees, leopards, lions, antelope and the extremely rare white rhinos, of which only about 30 individuals remain. Despite local efforts, poaching remains a significant concern for this World Heritage site.

Everglades National Park (United States):

This South Florida World Heritage site is the largest mangrove ecosystem in the Western Hemisphere, the largest continuous stand of sawgrass prairie and the most important breeding ground for wading birds in North America, according to UNESCO. Comprising freshwater marshes, tropical wetlands, and seagrass ecosystems, the Everglades are home to more than 400 species of birds, more than 275 species of fish, and over 800 species of land and water vertebrates. Some of these species include the Florida panther, snail kite, alligator, crocodile and manatee. However, these species continue to be threatened by loss of marine habitat, and the site remains in danger due to the degradation of the entire ecosystem, thanks to agricultural and urban development, and pollution.

Is A Duck-Stamp Competition Really The Best We Can Do?

Considering all of the great strides being made by conservation groups around the world, a recent announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had me scratching my head.

Here’s what the federal agency in charge of wildlife protection and habitat conservation is doing to further its mission: sponsoring a contest to design a “duck stamp” to raise money for the National Wildlife Refuge System. No, this is not a story from The Onion. It is our federal government.

In theory, the intentions are positive, and the causes are just. According to the FWS statement, $0.98 of every dollar from the stamps’ sales will go toward the purchase or lease of wetland habitat. Jack Slack, director of the FWS’ training center, appears to have the right idea.

“Never has it been more important to conserve and restore wetland habitat, especially as we search for methods to minimize the effects of climate change, for waterfowl and the multitude of other species that depend on wetlands,” Slack said in a statement released by the FWS.

But here’s where it gets interesting. The “duck stamp” is sold to every waterfowl hunter aged 16 or older for $15 apiece — a requirement mandated by federal law. There you have it: Hunting is funding wildlife “conservation.” How’s that for irony?

I must admit, before this announcement, I had never heard of a “duck stamp,” let alone the contest, despite its 75+ year history. But then again, I don’t hunt. And I’ve never been to West Virginia.

Don’t get me wrong: It’s encouraging to see the FWS make any attempt at conservation, as lame as this one may be. Let’s just hope the agency, with the help of the larger Department of the Interior, makes some bold action on persisting and pressing conservation issues.


Whooping-Crane Reintroduction Is Brimming With Symbolism

Photo courtesy of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

After over 60 years of absence from the state, the whooping crane is set to make a comeback in Louisiana.

In cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will reintroduce the first group of non-migratory whooping cranes into a wetlands conservation area in the state later this month, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI).

The whooping crane is highly endangered, with only about 400 individuals remaining in the wild, and the species was on the brink of extinction in the 1940s, the DOI notes.

The federal government has not given up on wildlife conservation, and it has not given up on Louisiana.

The decision by the department to reintroduce the species into the wild — albeit as an experimental, “non-essential” population — is positive news for conservationists and environmentalists alike. But it represents much more than that. With this announcement, the DOI is trumpeting the message loud and clear that Louisiana is a safe environment for wildlife, and that the state is persevering amid the aftermath of the infamous BP oil spill and the damage resulting from Hurricane Katrina.

With the images of oil-slathered birds still branded in my mind, in a way, it’s shocking that the Louisiana wetlands would ever be chosen as the site in which to reintroduce an endangered species.

On the other hand, it makes perfect sense: From the federal government’s perspective, these actions symbolize not only the comeback of the whooping crane, but the comeback of Louisiana from all of the perils it has endured.

I’m not quite convinced that this habitat is safe for any species, and I certainly have not forgiven BP for its egregious negligence and ruthless contamination. But what I will take away from the department’s decision is, nonetheless, uplifting: The federal government has not given up on wildlife conservation, and it has not given up on Louisiana.