From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published June 19, 2013 03:44 PM

Wildlife Migration Detours

Migration is a strategy used by many mammals in order to take advantage of food, shelter, and water that vary with seasons. Interestingly, there is strong evidence that genetics plays a role in migratory behavior that animals inherit. Many species rely not only on their senses to help them navigate, but they can also use mental maps to guide them to where they are supposed to go.

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But with considerable human development, how are animals supposed to find their way? According to research conducted by the University of Washington, half a dozen areas could experience heavier migration traffic compared with the average species-movement across the Western Hemisphere in response to a warming climate. 

In fact, researchers estimate that the movement across the southeastern United States is up to 2.5 times the average amount of movement across North and South America.
Other areas that could see pronounced animal movements are northeastern North America, including around the Great Lakes and north into Canada, southeastern Brazil, and the Amazon Basin. 

Researchers also considered how animals might travel when confronted by obstacles like cities, large agricultural areas, and other man-made barriers. 

While previous studies mapped where animals need to move to find climates that suit them, this is the first broad-scale study to also consider how animals might travel when confronted barriers, says Joshua Lawler, UW associate professor of environmental and forestry sciences.

Identifying where large numbers of species will need to move can help guide land use and conservation planning. Many of the animals moving southward through central Argentina will be funneled by agriculture and development through the more intact parts of the Gran Chaco region and into the Sierras de Córdoba and the Andes mountains. Similarly, the southern Appalachian Mountains in the southeastern U.S. are projected to act as a conduit for species moving northward in response to climate change.

"These findings highlight the importance of the natural corridors that exist in these places — corridors that likely warrant more concerted conservation efforts to help species move in response to climate change," Lawler said.

In other places barriers may need to be breached for animals to disperse successfully.

This research is also the first to project species movements based on both climate change and the constraints of human alterations to the landscape. 

The paper can be found online in the publication Ecology Letters.

For more information check out news and information at the University of Washington.

Detour image via Shutterstock.

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