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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Examining the Responses of Species to Climate Change: Will Wildlife Face Biological Thresholds?

Overview

Historical and projected climate data point toward significant changes in the future for the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. These changes will include impacts to many species (like birds, fish, and mammals), ecosystems (like forests), and natural resources (like water) that humans appreciate and rely on. In order to prepare for these changes, land and resource managers need to be able to predict how species will respond, what specific mechanisms are driving these changes, and what thresholds wildlife species may soon be pushed across. Crossing these thresholds could lead to rapid change or decline in the health of a wildlife population.

In response to this need, a team of researchers is working to identify the primary drivers (climate change vs. urban growth) of changes in the distribution of wildlife in the Northeast and examine potential changes in their distribution over time in order to identify possible biological thresholds that would significantly alter the biology and health of wildlife populations. The team will also determine how changing temperature and precipitation will influence wildlife interactions and tree and bird species, as well as examine how specific events, like extreme storms, may be correlated to biological thresholds. This project will focus on species of conservation concern in the Northeast and Midwest, including eastern tree species, songbirds, moose, Canada lynx, snowshoe hare, and southern pine beetle. This information will allow for more accurate assessments of the vulnerability of wildlife species and will help in adaptation planning efforts.