Providing a Means of Escape for Wildlife

It's a commonly accepted fact in evolutionary biology that more genetically diverse populations will have a better chance of adapting to and thriving under varying climate regimes than will inbred, genetically poor ones. With global warming likely to become an increasing threat to the livelihoods of many species, scientists believe the best way to help them survive is by giving them the means to move around, breed and multiply with ease.

This is in essence the purpose of "biological" or "wildlife corridors," which are tracts of wilderness connecting geographically distinct areas that are designed to facilitate the movement of wildlife from one ecosystem to another as the climate changes. A species suffering under the combined pressures of changes brought about by global warming could more easily move to a more accommodating region where it would presumably have a better chance of breeding and reproducing, thus ensuring its survival. The Wildlands Project in North America is working to get a large "Yellowstone-to-Yukon" corridor established while similar efforts are taking place throughout Central America. Though in principle a sound idea, "wildlife corridors" don't always work as well as intended: for example, corridors built to protect the golden toad, a species commonly found in Central America, failed when scientists discovered that it was extremely vulnerable even in protected areas. It is now extinct.

Some have suggested using "assisted migration," or the moving of plants and animals before the climate changes too drastically, to counter this problem by providing added assistance to species at risk. This approach would of course raise many difficult questions, not the least of which is: what happens if the assisted species threatens the existence of established life in the new location?

"If elephants start going extinct because of climate change, people are going to move them. So the question is, 'What would be the effects of moving elephants to a new area? And how physically would you do it?'," said McLachlan, a scientists who supports "assisted migration."

So what solution would provide the best outcome to this predicament? As Alan Pounds, a researcher at Costa Rica's Cloud Forest Preserve, would tell you (and as would the majority of other scientists), it's really simple: reduce and eventually reverse anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Easier said than done, of course.

Via ::Christian Science Monitor: One way to help species facing habitat loss: 'escape routes' (newspaper), ::Wired: Wildlife Corridors Help Animals Flee From Climate Change (blog)

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