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Protestors gather at the 2017 D.C. Climate March on April 29, 2017. Mark Dixon / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Mahncke

U.S. President Donald Trump has undone many major pieces of climate policy during his term, walking out on the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming and eliminating numerous Obama-era environmental regulations.

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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Seagrass is seen here in South Pigeon Creek estuary on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. James St. John / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Douglas Broom

Its waving fronds carpet the seafloor and shelter thousands of sea creatures. But seagrass is more than a haven for marine wildlife – researchers say it could play a major role in slowing climate change.

Read More Show Less
Worsening floods and storms accounted for about four-fifths of the total from 2000-2019. Pxfuel

Climate change has spurred close to a doubling of natural disasters in the last 20 years, and world leaders are failing to prevent Earth from evolving into "an uninhabitable hell" for millions, the United Nations warned on Monday.

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Support Ecowatch

Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska. Western Arctic National Parklands / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.

Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."


Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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Biologists are studying the impact of climate change on the Nenets and their reindeer herds. Deutsche Welle

Biologist Egor Kirillin is on a special mission. Deep in the Siberian wilderness in the Russian Republic of Sakha, he waits on the Olenjok river until reindeer come thundering into the water.

Read More Show Less
A University of Alberta researcher collects a soil sample from Arctic permafrost. University of Alberta

Can the past predict the future?

In the case of communities of microbes living in the Arctic permafrost, researchers at the University of Alberta think it might. The scientists discovered that the microbes and chemistry of Arctic soil changed dramatically following the end of the last Ice Age, and the same thing could happen again due to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks. Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle and Stacy Feldman

In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.

Read More Show Less
A Botswana elephant stands in a body of water. Geschenkpanda / Pixabay

Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.

Read More Show Less

Trending

An illustration depicts the extinct woolly rhino. Heinrich Harder / Wikimedia Commons

The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.

The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.

"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."

The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.

The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.

The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.

To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.

Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.

"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.

"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."

Malte Mueller / Getty Images

By David Korten

Our present course puts humans on track to be among the species that expire in Earth's ongoing sixth mass extinction. In my conversations with thoughtful people, I am finding increasing acceptance of this horrific premise.

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Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg is seen in a video conversation in Stockholm, Sweden on April 22, 2020. Jessica Gow / TT News Agency / AFP / Getty Images

By Priyanka Jaisinghani

COVID-19, "stay-at-home" orders and enforced physical distancing has made us more dependent on digital when it comes to connection and communication at both a local and global level.

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Researchers have turned to hydrophones, instruments that use underwater microphones to gather data beyond the reach of any camera or satellite. Pxfuel

By Kristen Pope

Melting and crumbling glaciers are largely responsible for rising sea levels, so learning more about how glaciers shrink is vital to those who hope to save coastal cities and preserve wildlife.

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Mainstream news outlets gave disproportionate coverage to climate denial and opponents of climate action for nearly thirty years, a new study found. Dunk / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Mainstream news outlets gave disproportionate coverage to climate denial and opponents of climate action for nearly thirty years, a new study found.

Read More Show Less
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Protestors gather at the 2017 D.C. Climate March on April 29, 2017. Mark Dixon / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Mahncke

U.S. President Donald Trump has undone many major pieces of climate policy during his term, walking out on the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit global warming and eliminating numerous Obama-era environmental regulations.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Seagrass is seen here in South Pigeon Creek estuary on San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. James St. John / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Douglas Broom

Its waving fronds carpet the seafloor and shelter thousands of sea creatures. But seagrass is more than a haven for marine wildlife – researchers say it could play a major role in slowing climate change.

Read More Show Less
Worsening floods and storms accounted for about four-fifths of the total from 2000-2019. Pxfuel

Climate change has spurred close to a doubling of natural disasters in the last 20 years, and world leaders are failing to prevent Earth from evolving into "an uninhabitable hell" for millions, the United Nations warned on Monday.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch

Cottongrass blows in the wind at the edge of Etivlik Lake, Alaska. Western Arctic National Parklands / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tara Lohan

Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.

Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.

"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."

Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.

It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.

Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.

Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.

One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.

The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.

They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.

"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."

That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.

And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.

"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."

Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.

"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.

The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.

"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."


Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

Trending

Biologists are studying the impact of climate change on the Nenets and their reindeer herds. Deutsche Welle

Biologist Egor Kirillin is on a special mission. Deep in the Siberian wilderness in the Russian Republic of Sakha, he waits on the Olenjok river until reindeer come thundering into the water.

Read More Show Less
A University of Alberta researcher collects a soil sample from Arctic permafrost. University of Alberta

Can the past predict the future?

In the case of communities of microbes living in the Arctic permafrost, researchers at the University of Alberta think it might. The scientists discovered that the microbes and chemistry of Arctic soil changed dramatically following the end of the last Ice Age, and the same thing could happen again due to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
Two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks. Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle and Stacy Feldman

In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.

Read More Show Less
A Botswana elephant stands in a body of water. Geschenkpanda / Pixabay

Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.

Read More Show Less

Trending