A warmer climate will affect all wildlife, but here seven species whose world could change dramatically. For pictures and more information about the animals see the photo gallery "Feeling the Heat
" in our May-June issue.
Scurrying across talus slopes in North America’s western mountains, American pikas, eight-inch-long, rabbitlike mammals, forage for fireweed, thistles, and grasses, which they store for the long winter ahead. Biologists predict that heat will creep up mountainsides, eventually driving peak-dwelling species into extinction.
Paul Santavy, a supervisory fish biologist at the Maine Fisheries Program Complex, is finding that hatchery salmon, which are living in water that’s almost too warm for them to survive, are taking cues from warmer oceans and returning to the Maine hatchery earlier in the year to spawn.
Records from NOAA show that the 20 hottest years on record happened in the past three decades, and that globally, we’re seeing a steady drop in annual snow cover. This spells bad news for the lynx and its preferred prey—the snowshoe hare—both of which thrive in deep, fluffy snow.
Future warming might cause mosquitoes’ range to shift north, meaning West Nile virus would likely move to higher altitudes, too. As the northern tip of a mosquito’s range warms, allowing it to move into previously uninhabitable areas, the southern limit might become too hot.
For half the year and amid extremely dense sea ice—no cetacean occupies such packed ice offshore for such a long time—narwhals search for their primary prey, Greenland halibut. A warming ocean could have an even bigger impact on narwhals by disrupting their finely tuned ecosystems and, thus, their food source.
Warmer waters could displace the sand lances and anchovies that tufted puffins feed their chicks, harming the species in the southern parts of its range.
As North America warms, the bat's range is expected to increase by at least a third, pushing north into parts of Texas and possibly other southern states, including Arizona and Louisiana.