Open Spaces : disease

Alaska: Across the Wildest State, Climate Change Threatens Many Species and Habitats

A momma polar bear stands with baby bears flanking her on either side

An Alaska polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Melting sea ice has made the polar bear a symbol of climate change impact. Photo: Susanne Miller, USFWS. Download.

Mutlimedia iconAudio: Interview with Alaska Native Elder Christina Westlake

Video: Polar Bear Research on the Chukchi Sea

With an area of more than 375 million acres extending 2,000 miles from east to west and 1,100 miles from north to south, Alaska dwarfs other states. The northernmost state is also unmatched in its range of climates and habitats — and nearly all are feeling impacts from climate change. 

During the last half-century, Alaska has seen some of the most rapid warming on earth, with temperatures rising 1 to almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit across its climate regions and ecosystems. By the year 2100, the average annual temperature of Alaska’s North Slope is projected to rise another 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

 “One big difference between Alaska and the Lower 48 is that here we’re dealing with impacts that have already occurred, not just forecasts of change,” says John Morton, Supervisory Fish and Wildlife Biologist at Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. “And because Alaska hasn’t undergone widespread landscape change from non-climate stressors such as agriculture and development, the impacts of climate change aren’t masked as they are elsewhere.”

[More]

New York: Invasive Insect Infestations Spread Further North, Threatening Hemlock Forests

A bug in a wooly nest with larvae

A hemlock woolly adelgid infestation can destroy a hemlock tree in just a few years. The insect gets its name from the fuzzy, white masses that the females produce. Photo: Michael Montgomery, USDA Forest Service.

In New York, climate change may make it easier for an invasive species to continue its spread to hemlock forests further to the north.

The threat comes from the hemlock woolly adelgid, an aphid-like insect that feeds on hemlock trees. The species gets its name from the fuzzy, white masses that the females produce. The adelgid uses its long mouth to extract nutrients from hemlock needles. This disrupts the flow of nutrients in the tree. Needles dry out, turn color, and drop off. Larger limbs start dying off within a couple of years. Trees become badly damaged and in many cases die after several years.

Hemlock forests provide unique habitat for wildlife. Their shade helps keep soil and water temperatures cool and provide microclimates in which many plants and animals thrive.

The hemlock woolly adelgid was first discovered in the United States in Virginia in the 1950s. It is native to Asia and was likely introduced to the U.S. by accident.  It has thrived along the east coast and has damaged hemlock forests from Maine to Georgia.

In New York State, the hemlock woolly adelgid was discovered in the 1980s. Infestations are now found in 25 counties. The infestations are clustered in two regions: the Hudson Valley, which includes most of the lower portion of the state, and the Finger Lakes. There is great concern over the possibility of the insects eventually spreading to the forests of upstate New York, including Adirondack Park.

[More]

New Hampshire: Shorter Winters Mean More Ticks, Pose Big Threat to Moose

A moose with a clearly visible rib cage rests in murky water

Tick infestations can drain the blood supply of moose and can lead to malnutrition and death. In a year with average weather conditions, a moose will probably carry 30,000 ticks by late fall. In years with a late first snow fall, a moose could carry 160,000 ticks. Photo: Patrick Lafreniere. Download.

The average moose in New Hampshire stands about six feet tall at the shoulder and weighs about 1,000 pounds. Yet a creature smaller than the eraser on a pencil is a big threat to these massive animals, popular with both wildlife watchers and hunters.

The creatures posing the threat are winter ticks – Dermacentor albipictus. A New Hampshire Fish and Game Department study that began in 2001 collared and tracked moose and found winter ticks accounted for 41 percent of all moose deaths in the state over a five-year period. That was nearly the same percentage of collared moose killed by hunting and moose-vehicle collisions combined. Virtually all the calf deaths during the study were due to winter ticks.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Department researchers will spend the next several years studying the best way to accurately determine the numbers of ticks on moose and how that relates to mortality rates, as well as the changing climate.

According to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, “rising temperatures over the past few decades have caused snow to become wetter and decreased the average number of snow-covered days across the state.” In looking toward the future, the report says climate change could see New Hampshire’s snow season shrink by almost 50 percent by mid-century.

[More]

505050 Week in Review (Week of May 16th)

If you missed a story in our climate change series this week, don't worry!  We've got the rundown of last week's stories right here. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. As always, we love to hear what you think. 

Maine : Rising Temperatures and Declining Snowfall Spell Trouble for Canada Lynx 
With temperatures predicted to rise in the coming years, the deep snow cover that the Canada lynx depends on may be significantly reduced, eliminating its competitive advantage over other predators. 

Lynx kitten with ear tag for future identification.
Minnesota : Warmer Temperatures Take a Toll on Minnesota Moose 
Minnesota ’s iconic moose might be the seven-foot-tall, 1,000 pound version of the canary in the coal mine. The large antlered animal appears on the verge of being pushed out of its southernmost historic range by climate change and other stressors. 

Minnesota Moose
Wyoming : Warmer Winter Temperatures Fuel Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation 
Driven by climate changes, Lodgepole pine forests of the Intermountain west are undergoing an unprecedented epidemic of the native mountain pine beetle. 

Three Toed Woodpecker

Mississippi : A Terrapin’s View of Climate Change 

The 10,216-acre Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge is under threat from the very thing that gives it life – the Gulf of Mexico and its changing sea levels. 

Diamondback Terrapin
Texas : In Face of Climate Change, Coast Is Not Clear for Whooping Cranes 
Even though a record-breaking 281 whooping cranes wintered this past season at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast of Texas, climate change is a major concern for the charismatic endangered species. 

Whooping Cranes

Wyoming: ‘Perfect Storm’ Fuels Mountain Pine Beetle Epidemic

An extreme closeup of a mountain pine beetle
Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming. Photo: USDA Forest Service. Download.

Lodgepole pine forests in parts of Wyoming and other areas of the Intermountain West are being infested by the native mountain pine beetle – a voracious bug smaller than your little fingernail that is thriving in a warming climate.

Triggered by a “perfect storm” of extended droughts, warm winters, and old, dense forests, mountain pine beetle populations have exploded across a landscape of lodgepole pine trees throughout Colorado and southeastern Wyoming.

The mountain pine beetle is a true predator on many western pine trees because to successfully reproduce, the beetles must kill host trees. They typically kill trees already weakened by disease or old age, but even a healthy tree’s defensive mechanisms can be exhausted when beetle numbers are at epidemic levels. The beetle attacks pines in late summer, dispersing a chemical signal that attracts other beetles to mass-attack the tree. When the beetles bore through the bark of the tree, they introduce blue-stain fungus, which can work quickly to kill the tree. Trees stressed by drought and old-age are unable to produce sufficient defenses to fend off beetle attacks. The beetles form tunnels and lay eggs underneath the bark, which hatch into larvae. The larvae spend the winter underneath the bark and emerge as adults in the summer, beginning the cycle again.

[More]

Kentucky: For Bats Imperiled by a Mystery Disease, Climate Change is One More Unknown

A brown bat being held with gloves with puffy white patches on his nose

A close-up of a bat shows the white coating of fungus on its muzzle indicative of white-nose syndrome, the disease that is decimating North America’s bat populations. How climate change will affect the virus — and the bats — is unknown. Photo: Courtesy of Ryan von Linden/New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Camera iconPhotos: White-nose syndrome photos from USFWS on Flickr

Much as water gouges Kentucky’s limestone caverns, white-nose syndrome is cutting through North America’s bat populations. The disease, associated with a fungus (Geomyces destructans) that is new to science, is decimating these nighttime insect eaters and alarming biologists.

How climate change will impact the fungus — and the bats — is unknown. A concern is that,  like other conservation challenges such as the spread of invasive and exotic species, climate change could compound the pressures on already stressed species.

First detected in New York in February 2006, white-nose syndrome has spread rapidly through the Northeast and beyond. This spring Kentucky became the 18th state to confirm the presence of the disease or the fungus. Four Canadian provinces are also affected.  So far, the disease has killed more than one million bats. U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologists fear some bat species may be wiped out completely.

Among other concerned observers: farmers. The agriculture industry counts on bats to eat an estimated $3.7 billion worth of crop pests.

Scientists are unsure how warmer average temperatures will affect the disease pattern. A century-long warming trend has accelerated over the last three decades.

[More]

Last updated: June 21, 2012