Move Species Threatened by Warming, Scientists Advise

July 17, 2008

People should help species threatened by climate change move to new habitats, researchers argue in a new paper.

Warming temperatures have already sent animals and plants inching toward the poles or climbing up mountains to seek out tolerable habitats.

But many species aren't able to move far enough or will have difficulty fleeing in the future, researchers say. That's because natural barriers such as mountains and deserts block some species, while others are trapped in pockets of forest or other habitats fragmented by cities and cropland.

Now some researchers are supporting an idea called assisted colonization, or actively moving plants and animals to more favorable locations.

"Under these circumstances, the future for many species and ecosystems is so bleak that assisted colonization might be their best chance," the authors write in tomorrow's issue of the journal Science.

But some researchers and conservation groups are skeptical about assisted colonization, arguing that the risk of spreading invasive species is too high. They also say that the practice could favor saving individual species over preserving larger ecosystems.

(Explore an interactive map of what could happen in a warmer world.)

Urgency

Humans have had a bad track record when it comes to moving species and disrupting environments.

The introduced kudzu vine now chokes much of the U.S. South, and the noxious cane toad has spread successfully across Australia.

That's why any movement should be modest—especially at first—and only employed for species that are well understood, experts say. But it's urgent to sort out the good candidates now, they add.

"Some species are already at risk for extinction due to climate change," said paper co-author Chris Thomas, a conservation biologist at the University of York in the United Kingdom.

Continued on Next Page >>


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