by Alan Boyle on August 26, 2016 at 4:08 pm
A visualization shows the likely routes that would be taken by mammals (pink), birds (blue) and amphibians (yellow) as they move northward in response to climate change. (Credit: Mapbox / OpenStreetMap / Migrations in Motion / Nature Conservancy)
A University of Washington professor’s research into climate-caused migrations has been transformed into a hypnotic map of the Americas that gets the message across.
The animated map, titled “Migrations in Motion,” shows the trajectories that species are expected to take in response to the warming trend that’s likely to unfold over the course of the coming decades.
“One of the nice things about the map is that it gives you a look at the main effects of climate change for animals: that species are going to move around,” UW ecologist Joshua Lawler told GeekWire.
Three years ago, Lawler and his colleagues published a study in Ecology Letters that laid out the likely impact of rising temperatures on migration patterns for nearly 3,000 species.
The flowing lines represent the movement of multiple species, rather than an individual species or animal. Pink lines represent mammals, blue is for birds, and yellow is for amphibians. The Appalachian migration highway stands out clearly, while the flow in the western United States is more widely distributed.
“In the West, there’s a lot more public land, so in general there are more opportunities for species to move through the west than through the east,” Lawler explained. It’s also easier for species to move to higher elevations in order to cope with a warming trend.
In the future, Lawler and his colleagues plan to produce a higher-resolution map of expected migration patterns, particularly for the western United States, and translate that into a plan to clear wider paths for species migration.
Currently, only about 41 percent of U.S. natural land area is connected enough to facilitate species shifts in a warming world, the researchers said in a paper published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To remedy that situation, they suggest tearing down fences, adjusting the routes of pipelines and power lines, and building overpasses and underpasses to help wildlife move across major roadways.
Lawler hopes maps like “Migrations in Motion” will help policymakers as well as the general public see the future unfold before their very eyes. “It was shocking to see these features emerge so clearly,” he said in a news release.
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GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle is an award-winning science writer and veteran space reporter. Formerly of NBCNews.com, he is the author of “The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference.” Follow him via CosmicLog.com, on Twitter @b0yle, and on Facebook and Google+.