Spectacled eiders winter in polynyas in the
Bering Sea south of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.
Photo Credit: /USFWS
In its 4th Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that warming of the climate system is unequivocal, is affecting terrestrial, marine and freshwater biological systems and is supported by observational evidence1.
Climate change may impact Alaska’s fish and wildlife in several ways including changes to their habitats, distributions, population sizes, physiology and behavior. Some habitats may disappear, forcing plants and animals into new areas and novel habitat conditions where they may encounter increased harvest pressures, disturbance, disease, predation and competition. Many Alaskan faunal species are migratory and are fundamental components of biodiversity in more southerly latitudes 1. Timing of important ecological events such as migration, egg hatch and insect emergence may shift because of climate change. If timing shifts are synchonous across species, then species interactions may be preserved and ecosystem health will be maintained2. However, asynchonous shifts may lead to population declines and ecosystem degradation. For example, caribou migration to calving areas coincides with emergence of plant forage essential for newborn calf survival. Warming temperatures in West Greenland appear to be correlated with a developing mismatch between the timing of peaks in calf production and forage availability. Data collected since 1993 indicate that caribou have not kept pace with advancing plant growing season resulting in diminished forage availability on the calving range, reduced foraging success of lactating females, and increased calf mortality3. Species that are cold-adapted, are alpine or arctic habitat-specialists, are rare or endangered, or are less mobile will likely have greater difficulty adapting to climate change2.
Observations of some of Alaska’s flora and fauna suggest climate-induced responses may already be occuring due to the changing environmental context within which many species exist.
Advancing Goose and Eider Nesting Phenology on the Y-K Delta
Climate Change Scenarios for Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge
U.S. Geological Survey
Environmental Protection Agency
National Oceanic and Atmopheric and Administration
Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Alaska Libraries Climate Change Reading Checklist
US Global Change Research Program Alaska Assessment
U.S. National Assessment Alaska Region
1 IPCC. 2007. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. An assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Bernstein, L. and the Core Writing Team (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization. 52 pp.
2Parmesan, C. and H. Gailbrath. 2004. Observed impacts of global climate change in the United States. Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Arlington, VA, USA, 56 pp.
Last updated: January 30, 2009
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