Nav: Home

Species facing climate change could find help in odd place: Urban environments

May 14, 2019

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (May 14, 2019)--When it comes to wildlife conservation efforts, urban environments could be far more helpful than we think, according to new research. A study published today in Ecology shows that animals move faster through 'low quality' habitats - evidence that could change the way conservationists think about managing landscapes to help species move in response to climate change. In light of the recent UN report indicating that 1 million species are threatened with extinction, the study provides a framework for definitive action to help preserve many species at risk. The work was carried out by researchers at Tufts University, University of Liverpool, Washington State University and the University of Ottawa.

For landscapes to facilitate range expansion, there is a balance to be struck between promoting movement with low-quality habitat (places where a species can survive, but does not have all the resources it needs to complete its life cycle) and promoting population growth with high-quality habitat. They conclude that low-quality habitats that meet a minimum standard could actually provide a benefit as conduits for movement.

The underlying behaviour that explains this surprising result is that when animals find themselves in an inhospitable area they tend to make longer and straighter movements. As long as they do not die in this area, their arrival at another breeding area will tend to be quicker. The researchers used data from 78 species in 70 studies to show that in 73 percent of cases, animals moved faster through 'lower-quality' habitats. To illustrate what this principle means on the ground, the team used mathematical models to calculate rates of range expansion across a variety of landscapes for an exemplar species -- the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly. They showed that range expansion is fastest through landscapes composed of around 15 percent high-quality habitat and 85 percent unsuitable habitat.

"At landscape scales, 15% high-quality habitat is still more than currently exists in most ecosystems. Nonetheless, our findings point to the potential of using suburban and even urban greenspace as underappreciated areas that could facilitate range shifts, if green spaces such as lawns were converted to native plant gardens, which have high conservation potential for insects and other wildlife species," said lead author Elizabeth Crone, a professor of biology at Tufts University.

Jenny Hodgson, co-author of the study and lecturer in evolution, ecology and behaviour at the University of Liverpool added: "This could offer a new perspective of flexibility for landscape planners: they needn't worry if they can't create unbroken tracts of high-quality wildlife habitat, instead they can create strategic 'stepping stones' in urban and agricultural areas. However, the stepping stones need to provide resources for breeding, not just temporary food resources."

The researchers hope their study will make designers of city and suburban environments start to think differently about their approach, by providing a starting point to assess the consequences of landscape structure in the management of wildlife, regardless of whether the goal is to enhance or restrict the potential for range expansion.

"Nearly all high-profile studies about biodiversity conservation have focused on documenting the patterns of species habitat use and movement. We feel that more insights are gained by considering the mechanisms behind these patterns," said co-author Cheryl Schultz, professor of conservation biology at Washington State University. "In this case, our discovery that lower quality habitats assist species movement to better habitats sets up a more realistic and achievable objective for urban landscapers, and provides an important complement to conservation efforts focused on preserving large tracts of natural areas and high-quality habitat."
Also contributing to the study were Frithjof Lutscher, professor at University of Ottawa, who provided the population dynamics model and its analysis, and Leone Brown, research associate at Tufts University.

This work was funded by a Department of Defense Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program Award to EEC and CBS (RC-2119) and by an NSERC Discovery Grant to FL (RGPIN-2016-04795).

Crone, E., Brown, L.M., Hodgson, J.A., Lutscher, F., Schultz, C.B. "Faster movement in non-habitat matrix promotes range shifts in heterogeneous landscapes." Ecology (2019) 00(00):e02701. DOI: 10.1002/ecy.2701

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

Tufts University

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".