By Howard Meyerson
While global climate change reports often focus on iconic creatures like polar bears and penguins, species that would be in jeopardy if the polar ice cap melts, Michigan and Great Lakes scientists are looking to understand what else might get in trouble. Will Michigan moose thrive 40 years from now when average temperatures are expected to be five degrees warmer? What about the Boreal Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Common Loon?
David Yarnold, National Audubon president and CEO, declared in an Audubon Magazine column last October that “climate change is the greatest threat to birds and biodiversity since humans have been on the planet.” He followed that by writing, “Scientists say we stand to lose one-quarter to one-third of all species on earth. And birds will be hit hard.”
That sweeping statement may raise doubt for some and give others reason for pause, but wildlife researchers say the evidence bears it out. “He is probably accurate with the caveat that there is still a lot of uncertainty,” says Chris Hoving, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources adaptation specialist, formerly the agency endangered species coordinator. “That one-third to one-quarter figure comes from a paper in the Journal of Science. It’s [based on] a simple model that looked at how much [home] ranges would change and how much biodiversity we would lose (due to climate shifts), but it is as good as we know. It could be more or it could be less.”
Data from citizen science projects like Audubon Christmas Bird Counts and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch, along with projects like the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas, have provided scientists with snapshots of the species that are moving northwards where winters are becoming less harsh and nesting seasons are growing longer.
“We already see evidence that birds are moving in Michigan and are adapting to the one degree Fahrenheit change we’ve had in the last 100 years,” Hoving said, pointing to the Least Bittern and Northern Cardinal as two examples. “We anticipate by mid-century, 2050, we will be looking at a three- to five-degree change and that the rate of change between now and then will be ten times as fast as the last 100 years.” Continue reading