CLIMATE SCIENCE PORTAL CLIMATE SCIENCE 101
Impacts on wildlife and biodiversity
Maine has a remarkable diversity of plants, animals, mushrooms, wetlands, forest types, and much more. It’s estimated that there are at least 1500 plant species (not including ferns and mosses), 33,000 wildlife (including insects), and over 100 types of natural communities. This variety of species and ecosystems, called “biodiversity”, will be unevenly affected by climate change. Some species will be more impacted than others, and the changes will ripple through the ecosystem in a variety of ways, altering complex relationships that have long sustained Maine’s native plant and animal communities. This is a simplification of rippling through the ecosystem: if a certain species of fly disappear due to climate change then certain fish which feed on that fly may disappear resulting in less food for the bears that would eat that fish, and so on.
How will climate change effect Maine's animal species?
Conditions will become too warm, with insufficient snow for some of Maine’s most iconic species such as Canada lynx (pictured below), moose, loons, and eastern brook trout, boreal chickadees, and Atlantic puffins. Species that are able to, will migrate northward to find more suitable habitat. Less adaptable and/or less mobile northern species may not survive the challenge. For example, deep snow is prime habitat for snowshoe hares. Hares, in turn, are primary prey animals for Canada lynx. As climate change reduces the amount of snowfall in Maine, habitat for snowshoe hares will degrade, reducing their numbers. The loss of a primary food source will pose a major challenge for Canada lynx, already Federally listed as a “threatened species.”
At the same time as northerly species are leaving the state, more southerly species such as bobcats, deer, and red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice, opossum, gray fox, and arctic fritillary are expanding their range northward into Maine.
CONNECTING WILDLIFE HABITATS "Wildlife move both daily and seasonally to survive. However, the habitats animals rely on continue to be fragmented by housing, roads, fences, energy facilities, and other man-made barriers. As a result, animals are struggling more and more to reach food, water, shelter, and breeding sites."
BEGINNING WITH HABITAT Beginning with Habitat (BwH) helps Maine municipalities, landowners, and land trusts build habitat conservation into their long-term plans.
How will climate change effect Maine's plant species?
An example of a less adaptable plant that may be negatively impacted by climate change is Furbish’s lousewort (pictured below), a plant with very specific habitat requirements and federally listed as a very rare, endangered plant species. In Maine, Furbish’s lousewort is found only in Aroostook County, along the St. John River. The plants require sloped riverbanks which are damp, but not too close to the water, and also partially shaded at the forest edge. The open habitat required of Furbish's lousewort is maintained by the yearly scouring of the river ice. As river ice diminishes, this scouring may not occur as regularly, allowing heartier species to become established, thrive, and eventually overcome the more finicky Furbish’s lousewort.
Source: (Left) Furbish’s lousewort, Mark McCollough, Ph.D./USFWS, (Right) Furbish’s lousewort, Maine.gov
BE LAKE SMART "Human activity impacts lakes. Of special concern, our houses and roads make impermeable surfaces that don’t allow rain to soak into the ground, increasing the overland flow of rain water that picks up nutrients such as phosphorus and deposits them into the lake, where they can feed unwanted algae growth."
“Occur at their southern range limit in Maine (e.g., Canada lynx)
Depend on coldwater (e.g. Eastern brook trout, brook floater) or boreal habitats (e.g., boreal chickadee)
Breed in wetlands that are vulnerable to fluctuating water levels during nesting periods (e.g., yellow rail, least bittern)
Are coastal or marine species affected by sea level rise, altered ocean chemistry, or changes in marine food webs (e.g., saltmarsh sparrow, Atlantic puffin, Arctic tern)
Inhabit naturally fragmented habitats that limit dispersal (e.g., Blanding’s turtle)
Have narrow habitat requirements (e.g., Katahdin arctic butterfly)”
SEE PAGES 190-229
What can we as a state do to reduce the impacts of climate change on biodiversity?
The ultimate solution to the impacts on biodiversity is for all countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby curtailing climate change. There are far too many strategies to reduce the impacts of climate change on biodiversity to list here. Here are some key general approaches:
Accelerate our work on monitoring changing climate and populations of species, especially vulnerable ones.
Through fieldwork and modeling, develop progressively better projections for the impacts of climate change on biodiversity
Conserve biodiverse landscapes and ecosystems that are resilient to climate change (e.g., mountain ranges that span elevational gradients).
Promote land use planning and development that is sensitive to climate change and sensitive habitats (e.g., “Smart Growth” and “Beginning with Habitat” )
Promote protection of habitat and water quality through community conservation programs (e.g., “LakeSmart”, “Bayscaping”)
Maintain and restore physical connections between important habitat areas across the state through the creation of wildlife corridors (e.g., wildlife corridors, overpasses and underpasses)
Promote mature forest stands, which support high levels of biodiversity.
Where these strategies are insufficient for species to migrate fast enough to keep pace with warming or where physical impediments remain, we might need to facilitate species migration by planting seeds, moving wildlife, etc. Such “facilitated migration” is already happening in many places across the planet.
The Maine Climate Science Portal was envisioned and developed by Maine Climate Action Now. Content development, to date, has been a largely-volunteer effort. Click here to see a full list of contributors.
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