While the climate change discussion in Washington is moving at a glacial pace, nature is responding to climate change at record speed. The animal, plant and insect kingdoms aren’t interested in public policy. They don’t read political blogs. They adapt because they have to. They must change to survive.
We would be wise to heed the signs.
Animals, plants and even insects are now adapting quickly to shifts in temperatures, often by migrating to cooler climates, modifying their diets and altering breeding cycles.
This is happening at blinding speed in large, complex ecosystems. Throughout most of the 20th century, for example, tree range shift occurred at about 0.4 miles a year. Since 1990, however, climate changes have caused species range to move by an average of 12 miles a year. A 2009 U.S. Forest Service study, tracking 40 major tree species in 30 Eastern states, concluded that tree ranges had moved, on average, more than 60 miles north in less than a century.
More than 60 percent of the birds the National Wildlife Federation tracked in a recent study have expanded their range northward by an average of 35 miles in the last 40 years. Fourteen small mammal species in the Sierra Nevada Mountains were found to have extended the elevation at which they can survive by an average of 1,640 feet.
This rapid adaptation is occurring around the world. British researchers recently analyzed more than 2,000 animal and plant species in Britain and found that many had already made significant adaptations to a changing environment.