Birds, Bugs, and Bushes: the effects of climate change on local flora and fauna

Shifting and shrinking ranges of habitat caused by climate change will have serious implications throughout our natural world. 

In fact, Audubon’s findings classify nearly half of all North American birds as severely threatened by global warming. Sea level rise will put pressure on estuarine marshes and the birds and other wildlife they support. 

Plant community shifts within the forests in our region where trees with northern range distributions are becoming locally extinct and southern ranged trees are migrating in will have impacts of this on this region’s carbon storage capacity. 

Larger and more frequent insect outbreaks may occur, but in other cases recurring outbreaks may be disrupted or diminished. 

On March 2nd at the Chappaqua Library, we were joined by over 50 attendees to hear from three experts about the effects climate change is likely to have on local flora and fauna, along with some simple action steps we can all take to help mitigate these effects. 

birdsbugsbushesspeakers
Speakers Angelica Patterson, Louis Sorkin, and Eric Lind

Birds

Eric Lind, the Director of the Constitution Marsh Audubon Center, spoke about some of the impacts of climate change on birds.

Although climate change is often presented as something that will happen in the future, we can already see some of its impacts on our wildlife:

However, there are some instances where a small group of people have been able to help out wildlife, like the bald eagle. In addition, he encouraged us to focus not just on the impacts of climate change, but also to continue appreciating the beauty of the natural world around us. Enjoying nature through citizen science, birding, and more can be a social activity!

Bugs

Louis Sorkin, an entomologist from the American Museum of Natural History,  pointed out that some insects actually need cold weather in order for their life cycles to progress properly. Climate change can make insects appear earlier in the spring, and, according to research by Erik E Stange, cause fewer insects to die during the winter, allowing them to spread to higher latitudes.

In addition to the direct effects that changing temperatures will have on insects, climate change can disrupt the symbiotic relationships that bugs have with other species. Here’s how that might happen:

BugsClimate
Source: Stange et al. “Climate Change Impacts.”

The changing climate could impact the other species in an insect’s food chain, which in turn would impact the populations of insects. The impacts of climate change will vary depending on a number of different factors, but it’s expected that in our region, insects will “benefit most from climate change through more rapid development and increased survival.”

Source: Stange, Erik E, and Ayres, Matthew P (Nov 2010) Climate Change Impacts: Insects. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022555]

Bushes

Angelica Patterson, a plant ecophysiologist at Columbia University, showed us how forests can actually store a large amount of carbon dioxide, acting as carbon “sinks.” Over time, the amount of temperate forests has increased while the amount of tropical forests has decreased, affecting the amount of CO2 that can be stored by trees.

Because of the increase in temperate forests in our area, they’ve been acting as a carbon sink. However, their ability to store carbon may be impacted:

Unfortunately, plants only have three options when it comes to dealing with climate change:

Why should we care?

One of the questions that came up is why we should care about these changes:

What can we do?

The speakers pointed out how important the local plant community can be:

They encouraged removing invasives and planting native species, which Eric described as a “gratifying and easy” way to help.

They also encouraged having respectful discussions with others about the environmental issues that we care about and advocating for scientific facts.

Thanks to all the speakers and audience members who came out, as well as our cosponsors: the Chappaqua Library, Saw Mill River Audubon, and the New Castle Sustainability Advisory Board.

birdsbugsbushes
Carole Griffiths, FCWC President

Resources

Follow us on Twitter to see our live-tweets at future events, read the rest of our tweets from “Birds, Bugs, and Bushes,” and stay up-to-date on environmental news.

Check out your local Audubon society for more on helping birds. Here are some of our member organizations in Westchester:

Bedford Audubon Society

Bronx River Sound Shore Audubon

Central Westchester Audubon Society

Hudson River Audubon Society

Saw Mill River Audubon

If you’d like to learn more about incorporating native plants into your landscape, check out the Native Plant Center.

Enjoy this blog post? Sign up here for our monthly E-News and action alerts!

Updates:

Watch the complete video of the event on the Chappaqua Library’s site.

Here’s an article not only about how climate change will impact wildlife, but also about how shifts in wildlife may in turn affect the rate of climate change: Climate change: global reshuffle of wildlife will have huge impacts on humanity –  by Damian Carrington, The Guardian

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