2 researchers find that climate change can cause species relocation

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Two researchers, including campus associate professor of public policy Solomon Hsiang, published a study June 9 that found that climate change characterized by a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius can cause species in the Tropics to migrate a significant distance to areas that have cooler temperatures.

Hsiang and Adam Sobel, a professor at Columbia University, worked together to conduct research on the effects of climate change in the Tropics, a region located near the equator. They discovered that because tropical temperature is uniform, human, animal and plant species must travel farther distances in order to relocate to areas with temperatures to which they are accustomed.

According to Sobel, most discussion on climate change focuses on the polar region — where temperature changes the fastest — and tends to ignore the tropical region, where temperature changes the slowest. Sobel said the effects of this movement on the human population could lead to a shortage of resources.

“Everyone would end up crowded at the end of the Tropic,” Sobel said. “That would be a very challenging situation.”

According to Sobel, the two studied this phenomenon by looking at a temperature map of the earth and then calculating the shortest distance a species would have to move to return to its original climate during a temperature increase of two degrees Celsius.

Michael Ranney, campus professor in the Graduate School of Education, said species attempting to move to cooler locations may die off while trying. He added that species with a small range of motion are more prone to extinction.

“But a tree just can’t uproot itself and move, which means that its lack of mobility might leave it to die,” Ranney said. “There’s a danger for both the plants and animals to die off.”

According to Sobel, by the end of the century, the temperature will increase by the amount that the experiment predicted. But species have already begun to move — and the effects of their migration may be soon evident.

George Roderick, professor and chair of the department of environmental science, policy and management, remarked that this type of migration can have many negative effects on society. With people living in closer proximity to each other, Roderick said there are likely to be a higher concentration of diseases and an increased rate of poverty.

Though temperatures are bound to increase, the challenge comes in trying to determine how species will react to a climate that does not exist on earth right now — which is an experiment that has yet to be conducted, said Jeff Chambers, associate professor of geography.

“You either acclimate, you migrate or you die,” Chambers said. “And then we don’t know which species will acclimate.”

Contact Kailey Martinez-Ramage at [email protected].

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