Photo: Species and ecosystem impacts

A changing climate forces plants and animals to migrate in order to survive. (Credit: noelzialee via Flickr.)

Climate change is altering the pattern of life on the planet, causing widespread species extinction, migration and behaviour changes.

A changing climate forces plants and animals to migrate in order to survive. However, research has shown that most plant species are able to migrate at only 1/10th of the speed required to keep up with human-induced climate change.

To make matters worse, human settlements and infrastructure have already subdivided ecosystem habitat into isolated patches. Climate change will make many of these patches uninhabitable for the species that live there. Northern countries like Canada are experiencing some of the most serious impacts on biodiversity:

  • Canada's increasingly dry Northern boreal forests, stretching across the Canadian Shield, have seen burns escalate from one-million hectares to three-million in the last decade.
  • Female caribou migrate in spring to small pockets of vegetation where they feed and raise their calves. But for the past decade, spring has come so early that by the time the caribou reach the coastal plain, their principal food plant has already gone to seed.
  • A receding Arctic icecap and earlier-than-normal breakup of sea ice has affected polar bears, which depend on sea ice to hunt seals. Recent studies shows polar bears in some regions are down a third in body weight. The latest generation of seals have also been found to be much thinner than usual.

One study looked at whether species can migrate quickly enough to survive in a rapidly changing climate. It found that Canada is likely to be one of the hardest hit (PDF) because of its northern location, and that more than 45 per cent of Canada's habitat could be lost by the end of this century, resulting in a 20 per cent loss of species in vulnerable ecosystems, such as the Arctic and boreal forests.

Read more