Persecute, protect or ignore? Dilemma as species move due to climate change

  Last updated July 23, 2019 at 11:58 am


Animals are having to change their ranges and habitats due to climate change – but how do we manage them when they get too close to humans?

Polar Bears climate change animal migration

Polar bears are just one of the many species that are having to adjust their range and habitats.. Credit: SeppFriedhuber/Getty Images

Polar bears turning up in Russian Siberia this year are the latest sign of a trend that scientists expect to increase in coming years as species change their ranges and habitats in response to climate change.

However, there is the possibility for conflicts to arise between humans and animals. This has lead a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, to look into how these new arrivals are likely to be regarded.

Species need to move to survive

Lead author Brett Scheffers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, says climate change would alter regions’ ability to support the animals living there.

“To survive, those species will need to move to areas where they can find food and water, as well as conditions they are adapted to,” he says.

“That presents challenges for people who make decisions about how to manage wildlife.

“It used to be that you could draw a box around a species and say, ‘this species lives here,’ but increasingly we are going to see them leaking out of those boxes, and local people and governments will have to handle the newcomers,” he says.

Redistribution on a much bigger scale

Co-author Gretta Pecl from the University of Tasmania’s Centre for Marine Ecology says past example of species movement give an insight into how future mass movements due to climate change could be managed.

“In the past, forces other than climate change, such as land development, have altered where animals live, although climate change has the potential to cause redistribution on a much bigger scale,” Pecl says.

“Our study identified species that had shifted due to non-climate factors and, when we looked at how people reacted, we found three types of response: persecute, protect or ignore.”

Species who pose a threat are more likely to be culled

Pecl explains that the type of response to each animal depends on how costly and beneficial they were perceived to be to their new human neighbours.

“For example, if it’s a culturally important species, a popular game animal or already protected, they’re more likely to be protected,” she says.

“But if a species poses an economic threat or a threat to species that are already there, as invasive long-spined urchins are doing along Tasmania’s East Coast, there may be moves to cull or control it.

“Sometimes, a species is neither welcomed nor rejected, falling into the ignore category.

“Understanding these patterns now can help us better prepare for the mass redistribution of species that climate change will set into motion,” Pecl says.

The study points out that because species on the move don’t respect State or national boundaries, managing species affected will require multilateral cooperation.

Governments already do this with migratory species. However the difference with climate change is that instead of moving back and forth seasonally, new arrivals won’t return to where they came from.


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