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Highway to the Survival Zone

For plants and animals fleeing rising temperatures, varying precipitation patterns, and other effects of climate change, the eastern United States will need improved “climate connectivity” to give them a better shot at survival.

survival

Georgia Tech Research Scientist Jenny McGuire is interested in spatial questions about the ecological and evolutionary implications of climate change. In a new paper, she and collaborators quantify the concept of climate connectivity in the United States.

Western areas of the U.S. provide greater temperature ranges and fewer human interruptions than eastern landscapes, allowing plants and animals there to move toward more hospitable climates with fewer obstacles. A new study has found that only 2 percent of the eastern U.S. provides the kind of climate connectivity required by species that will likely need to migrate, compared to 51 percent of the western United States.

The research, reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for the first time quantifies the concept of climate connectivity in the United States. The research suggests that creating climate-specific corridors between natural areas could improve that connectivity to as much as 65 percent nationwide, boosting the chances of survival by more species.

“Species are going to have to move in response to climate change, and we can act to both facilitate movement and create an environment that will prevent loss of biodiversity without a lot of pain to ourselves,” said Jenny McGuire, a research scientist in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences. “If we really start to be strategic about planning to prevent biodiversity loss, we can help species adjust effectively to climate change.”

The research was supported by the U.S. National Park Service and by the Packard Foundation. — John Toon

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