As climate change heats our world up, it will have devastating effects on the American landscape. But one of the biggest changes may go unnoticed by most humans, as thousands of species are prodded by warming temperatures and changing weather patterns into large-scale migrations—as visualized by Migrations in Motion.
Created by researchers from the University of Washington and the Nature Conservancy, Migrations in Motion models the migration paths of 2,954 different North and South American species using projected climate change patterns over the next 100 years. The model—which is based on electronic circuit theory, and predicts patterns of connectivity across landscapes—shows that through vast areas of the Western Hemisphere (especially the Amazon Basin, southeastern United States, and southeastern Brazil), animals will need to travel much farther to reach their ideal climates over the next century.
The visualization itself is undeniably pretty, as candy-colored swirls representing birds, mammals, and amphibians pulse like gulf streams across the skin of the planet. There are also some interesting hotspots: check out the bird and frog party that's going to be happening in Ecuador come 2116!
But the ultimate point of this visualization isn't to be another climate change curiosity, but to bring attention to the fact that, right now, a lot of the migration corridors along which animals will try to travel aren't open. They're fractured by walls, highways, fences, overpasses, and other human constructions, which will actually prevent animals from migrating the way they should. This, in turn, could lead to mass die-offs, and even extinctions.
What's the solution? In short, open those corridors up. The Nature Conservancy recommends that conservationists and land managers work to re-build or maintain connectivity between species' current habitats and their likely future ones. Yet Migrations in Motion visualization doesn't provide detail on where those problem spots are, and according to the Nature Conservancy's senior landscape ecologist Brad McRae, it might be impossible to know. "Conservationists can’t predict where every species needs to move and where every barrier is that might stand in their way," he tells Nature. The only thing we can do is work to keep natural patches of land connected as a general rule of thumb.