By Stephanie Rowe
Countries are on fire, rainforests are being decimated and our oceans are in serious trouble. These tragic truths are a stark reminder of the climate emergency upon us. One that living legend David Attenborough, graced us with when he joined Instagram last month, becoming the fastest ever person to reach 1 million followers on the social media platform. (I for one, am awaiting footage of him with a “1 milli” poster- NOT balloons of course!)
Let’s take a look at how the climate emergency and changing weather patterns are forcing wildlife to “up sticks” and shift their natural ranges.
It’s getting hot in here…
Wildlife is moving on up, literally, and it’s not perhaps quite as cheery as the M People classic would have you think. Weather conditions have been heating up, creating a wider range of habitats that are now available for many species. Essentially, this means the likes of many insects and birds from traditionally hotter climates, have been able to colonise areas of the UK. In addition, some species which once solely occupied areas in Southern Britain (think butterflies and dragonflies), have been heading further North. While increasing a species range may seem like a positive (not to mention the warmer summers in the UK!), our hibernating native species aren’t best pleased, or indeed suited, to this change.
Take bats for example. We have 18 species of bat here in the UK, all of which slip into a state of torpor from around November to March. This is where an animal is in a state of significantly decreased physiological activity, usually enabling them to save energy during times of less food availability. Of course, a lot of consideration goes into the preparation and sustenance of this torpic state. Feeding takes place in the naturally warmer months of Summer and these are the reserves that bats live off while asleep. In order for torpor to be maintained, bats need to seek accommodation that will enable them to keep safe, dry and at a stable temperature. With temperatures set askew due to climate change, warmer winters run the risk of waking bats from torpor. This false queue stimulates them into foraging, whereby at this time of year, their main source of prey; flying insects, are in scarce supply. Ultimately, this could result in bats using up vital fat reserves, spelling bad news for population numbers.
In response to this climate confusion, Noctule bats (Britain’s largest bat species), have been moving North to seek cooler winters to hibernate. A European study of this species, has shown that plucky young male bats have been making the first move, finding winter roosts further north of where they were born. Evidence suggests that these bachelors have then been remaining to find a mate during the summer, meaning a gradual range shift to the North has occurred.
Who else has made the move?
It’s not just Britain’s bats that have decided to cool things off. According to data from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), over 55 species in the last decade have moved to other parts of Britain that would normally be considered outside their natural range. Jersey Tiger Moths and European bee-eaters are among the few who have been recorded elsewhere of their normal habitat range.
In the oceans, White Beaked Dolphins, who need cooler waters to survive, are on the brink of their range in Scottish waters. This is a troubling figure when we consider that 80% of the European population is thought to be found in the UK and Scotland.
Atlantic Puffin’s, who come to the UK to breed in the summer, have been frequenting their UK nesting sites less in recent years. It’s a sad state of affairs, that climate change isn’t the only threat severely impacting the Puffin; overfishing is depleting their main prey source.
Are we ready for this?
The same study from ZSL, suggests that 29% of the newly established populations have been found to have a negative impact on surrounding nature or people.
Novel wildlife populations can cause a whole host of issues for humans; be it the diseases they may bring, local wildlife they may diminish or crops they may be partial to. While a figure of 20% was attributed to positive impacts of these novel populations, it seems the UK is not quite ready for the rapidly increasing movement of new species. Our current polices and attitudes towards the environment, potentially lack the robustness needed to effectively manage and protect this ever climate triggered movement.
Want to learn more about wildlife conservation, nature and sustainability? Check out our other blog posts here!