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New study forecasts 'mass species turnover' of wild animals in coming years: 'With our actions, it could be mitigated'

A mass exodus or reduction of species could change the balance of our ecosystems and communities in ways that are still unclear.

A mass exodus or reduction of species could change the balance of our ecosystems and communities in ways that are still unclear.

Photo Credit: iStock

New analysis is forecasting a "mass species turnover" in certain cities. Scientists are still investigating what their predictive models could mean for local economies, biodiversity, and public health. 

What's happening?

A study published in the journal PLOS One looked at more than 2,000 animal species in 60 cities across the United States and Canada. It found that thousands of species may no longer call the same cities home by 2100 as a result of changing global temperatures. 

The analysis considered various scenarios, including ones in which humanity continues to burn dirty fuels at a high rate. However, lead author Alessandro Filazzola told the CBC that he was surprised to find the models predicted significant changes even in a low-pollution scenario. 

The analysis notes that cities in arid climates would be the least impacted, in part because their "ecosystems are believed to be relatively resilient to climate variability." On the other hand, subtropical regions, including parts of the Eastern U.S. and California, are expected to lose the largest number of species.   

Meanwhile, the study predicts temperate parts of Canada will gain the greatest number of species, with a warmer and wetter climate helping animals that struggle in tough winters.

Why is this important?

A mass exodus or reduction of species could change the balance of our ecosystems and communities in ways that are still unclear. For example, the study notes that insects, along with birds, are the species predicted to be most heavily impacted by changes in climate. 

This may include mosquitoes — "known carriers of disease," according to the CBC. These pesky insects have already spread further north elsewhere. 

The CBC added that predictive models showed ticks were also projected to surge in places like Ontario and Quebec. These creatures are not technically insects, but they, too, can spread diseases harmful to humans, like Lyme disease. Another study found that venomous snakes could also be on the move.  

Meanwhile, according to the latest analysis, beneficial insects like pollinators are projected to greatly decline in certain cities. The authors believe that Raleigh, North Carolina, will see a 40% reduction in bee abundance per degree with warming. Overall, it projects cities in the U.S. and Canada to lose 9% of bees.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have pollinators to thank for more than one-third of the foods we enjoy, including popular items like coffee, strawberries, and potatoes. 

What can be done about this?

Even though some changes in species distribution occurred in each of the study's models, Filazzola explained to the CBC that our choices can make a meaningful difference.

"With our actions, it could be mitigated," he said

University of Alberta biology professor Colleen Cassady St. Clair added that the study provided a potential glimpse into ways we can prepare. Cities, for example, could develop an early action and education plan to limit the spread of pest-borne diseases. 

Ontario Nature conservation science manager Jenna Quinn also pointed to how the introduction of new species could be a positive "opportunity to learn and form new relationships with nature," though she explained it was still important to understand any negative impacts, including potential ways invasive species could affect our food supply. 

You can support pollinators by choosing native plants in landscaping, while switching to LED light bulbs and unplugging appliances that aren't in use are easy ways to reduce harmful pollution linked to changes in climate.  

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