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    November 19, 2019

    Climate change and wildlife’s inability to adapt

    Habitat loss limits wild animals’ ability to adapt

    You’re seeing evidence with increasing frequency. Climate change is adversely impacting both people and wildlife. For wildlife, climate change undermines food availability, alters key habitat conditions and increases exposure to pests and predators. These challenges are even more difficult for wildlife to cope with when habitat is bulldozed for development or taken over for resource extraction or intensive agriculture. You’re making an important difference for wildlife in these difficult times. Your support helps keep Trust sanctuaries protected as permanent wildlife safe havens.

    With warming temperatures and earlier bloom times, bees and other pollinators are out of sync with the plants they pollinate. That means fewer insects for birds to feed their nestlings. Migratory bird species cannot adapt the timing of their migration quickly enough to match shifts in peak abundance of food, and that takes a toll on nesting success. Wood warblers are declining as warmer temperatures cause pine forests to crowd out the northern hardwood forests they need. Protecting land cannot stop climate change-induced shifts from occurring. But the sanctuaries you protect are places birds will forever have for nesting, overwintering and migratory rest stops, giving them safety and stability as they strive to survive in an unpredictable world.

    Worsening storms, droughts and fires destroy habitat and claim many animals’ lives, particularly when developments and highways prevent escape to other habitat. Less sudden climate change impacts can be perilous, too. American pikas do not shed their thick fur in summer, so increasing temperatures force them to seek cooler habitat at higher elevations to avoid overheating. The higher up they move, though, the less habitat is available, meaning fewer pikas can survive. In recent years, 40 percent of Great Basin pika populations have been lost. Moose populations, too, are in decline—from 30–75%, depending upon the portion of their range—partly because warmer summers are causing heat stress. Most harmful, though, are warmer winters, which are increasing tick populations. Tick-affected moose can become anemic, and scratching causes loss of fur, reducing insulation they need for winter.

    Snowshoe hares’ survival depends upon their seasonal shifts in fur color—from brown to white and back again—coinciding with the arrival and melting of snow cover. Their fur color shifts in response to the eternally predictable seasonal changes in daylight, so as climate change shortens winter snow cover on both ends of the season, they have no ability to adapt to stay in sync with their surroundings. For every week of color mismatch between fur and habitat, they are seven percent more likely to be preyed upon.

    These are just a few of the pressures climate change is adding to wildlife’s struggles to survive. In places where habitat is also being degraded or destroyed, their ability to adapt is further limited. That’s why the wildlife sanctuaries you’re helping permanently protect are more important than ever. Climate change will impact these lands, too, but because of you, wild animals will forever be able to count on Trust sanctuaries as safe havens from development and other deliberate disruption. They’ll also be spared the pressures of commercial hunting, sport hunting and trapping. You are giving wild animals the best tool for surviving the significant changes now occurring—habitat protected foremost and forever to help them thrive.


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