Study Shows Animals Starting to Move to Higher Latitudes, Elevations


A new study out of the University of York shows that animals are moving to higher latitudes and elevations as a result of global warming. The research, which is a meta-analysis of previous individual studies, finds that about 1,300 species are shifting habitat faster than had previously been assumed. But they’re not all moving toward cooler temperatures. The data are mostly skewed toward Europe and North America. Here’s the abstract:

The distributions of many terrestrial organisms are currently shifting in latitude or elevation in response to changing climate. Using a meta-analysis, we estimated that the distributions of species have recently shifted to higher elevations at a median rate of 11.0 meters per decade, and to higher latitudes at a median rate of 16.9 kilometers per decade. These rates are approximately two and three times faster than previously reported. The distances moved by species are greatest in studies showing the highest levels of warming, with average latitudinal shifts being generally sufficient to track temperature changes. However, individual species vary greatly in their rates of change, suggesting that the range shift of each species depends on multiple internal species traits and external drivers of change. Rapid average shifts derive from a wide diversity of responses by individual species.

From the Arbor Day Foundation, here’s an animation that demonstrates the shifting plant growth, or “hardiness zones,” in North America from 1990 to 2006. 

About 20% of species moved in a direction opposite from what might have been predicted. It appears that they prefer warmer situations, which is another arrow in the “we’re bad at predicting things” quiver. We expected one outcome, but mother nature showed us another.

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  1. Julia says:

    Does elevation factor into any “influence” in the changes from 1990 to 2006?
    Are we to presume that before 2006 “arbor day” did not have their own hardiness chart, hence the comparison of FDA chart to arbor day chart?

    How does one explain “mother nature”‘s response with some species going the opposite direction?

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  2. Chad says:

    How do we know this has to do with climate change? How about more people moving to lower latitudes and pushing animals out of their habitats towards higher latitudes?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 1
  3. Jason Collins says:

    If you conducted an economic experiment and 80% did as expected, would you then argue that you are bad at predicting? Or would you use statistical analysis to determine whether the trend was significant? In fact, could you show me any experiments in economics where some of the individual participants did not do the opposite to the overall statistical trend? Putting it another way, was the prediction that all 1,300 species would head to higher latitudes, or was it that this is what they would do on average?

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  4. Andrea Taylor says:

    I can think off the top of my head of three possibilities for the species going “the wrong way”:
    1. They’re being driven out by migrants moving in on their territory.
    2. They have no easy migration path to territory they would prefer.
    3. They actually did prefer warmer territory, they were just being outcompeted by other species that have either moved out of that territory or are under environmental stress from warming. For example, when DDT wiped out the boll weevil from so many cotton fields, other species that had been outcompeted in cotton by the boll weevil moved in and not all of them were amenable to control by DDT.

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  5. A Conservative Teacher says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Tony says:

      Global Cooling all the rage was it? This from Wikipedia:

      “This hypothesis had mixed support in the scientific community, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s and press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles.”

      The difference between then and now are significant. Now Global Warming has overwhelming scientific support backed up by overwhelming evidence.

      Yes, there is also overwhelming amounts of denial in play, but the credibility of the deniers is so thin as to be laughable. Can’t you see who is funding the “no” case here?

      To claim that there is any analogy between a fringe theory like the one you quote, and the strong international scientific consensus we have today shows just how horribly flawed the education system in America really is. That you are a teacher is frightening.

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  6. DaveyNC says:

    Life adapts. Imagine that.

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  7. RGJ says:

    “Global warming” ? Come on, even the alarmists abandoned that. It is “climate change” now. That is how you get grants, get published, and get tenure.

    How about every professor bleating about “global warming” agree to an income freeze for that subject? Let’s see how fast *that* industry goes the way of zero population and no nukes.

    Humans need something to be afraid of. It used to be demons, now it is the science disaster du jour. Thirty years ago Time Magazine did a cover story about the horrible dangers of ….global cooling. Excellent cherry picked statistics.

    Last year, relatively unnoticed, the main database for historic weather patterns was found to be fraudulent. Careers were…not ruined.

    Is it good to work to eliminate pollution? Sure. But breeding flatulent-free livestock would far outweigh all the man-made emissions caps.

    Ten thousand years ago, a mere blink in time, Chiacago was covered by a mile of ice. Climate change? Yes, of course. It is the only constant in our planet’s history.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 19
    • Anders Munch says:

      Global warming is what’s causing climate change. It’s not one or the other, it’s cause and effect.

      That’s what scientists have been saying for three decades now. But you have been listening to “alarmists”, not scientists, it would seem.

      Until recently, the focus was on discussing the evidence for global warming. Now it has shifted to discussing the consequences of global warming. The public agenda has changed, but the science is the same.

      I wonder, how do you expect that flatulence-reduced (f.-free is biologically impossible) livestock to succeed in the marketplace, if not through economic incentives or regulation?

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    • Max says:

      Reality check: The best way to get unlimited cash studying climate is to be a skeptic and line your pockets with oil company dollars. A little checking on who is funding the “research” of the leading skeptics would make it clear where the bias in the data lies.
      I assume RGJ’s livelihood depends on ignoring climate change, so kudos to him for fighting to feed his family. No shame in that.

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  8. Randall says:

    My work is brokering nursery stock in Memphis, TN, and I will attest that we have been having what I call “zone 8 plant creep” for the past few years or so. By that I mean that people are starting to plant zone 8 plants in our area. A lot of old-time landscapers will tell me that you can’t plant those certain ones here, they’ll freeze. I keep waiting for them to be hammered one winter, but for the 10 years I have been doing this, it has yet to happen.

    The last really cold winter here was December 2000-January 2001. That year there was a lot of cold damage including well-established zone 7 plants that never have any winter problems.

    Truthfully though, I prefer the warmer winters, I like the increased variety of plants and love it when my lantana and elephant ears come back from the roots. Heck, I’m tempted to plant some sago palms and variegated pittosporum.

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