Climate Change in the Pacific Region
Pacific Region

Fish and Wildlife Challenges

Children outside on field trip observing aquatic lifeSpecies’ abundance and distribution are dynamic due to a variety of factors, including climate. As climate changes, the abundance and distribution of fish and wildlife will also change. However, it can be difficult to estimate with precision which species will be affected by environmental change, and exactly how they will be affected.

Using a landscape conservation approach to strategically connect the most important blocks of wildlife and aquatic habitat will be important to allow wildlife to adapt to climate change. This highlights the need for collaborative and partnership efforts with landowners, State and local governments, Tribes, federal agencies and conservation organizations.

Fish and wildlife managers will need to take a variety of actions to address the many climate-related threats to species and ecosystems. For example, the Service manages America’s National Wildlife Refuge System and changing climate will force change in the stewardship of these lands. Some challenges posed by a changing climate might include:

  • Changing fire regimes;
  • Changing patterns of rain and snowfall;
  • Changing access to water;
  • Altered hydrology in rivers and wetlands;
  • Increased frequency of extreme weather events;
  • Rising sea levels at our 177 coastal refuges.
  • Changing abundance and distribution of fish, wildlife, and plant species.

More broadly, conservation and fish and wildlife management challenges include:

Continued refinement of regional climate models.
Regional climate change models can lack the spatial resolution needed to produce ecologically useful data. Finer scale models are needed to provide information that reflects complex topography so that better hydrological and habitat information is available. Regional climate models also need to be combined with other predictive models on species distribution related to climate change (climate envelope modeling), other biological responses to climate change, and human-caused disturbances.

Predicting potential changes in species distributions and community structure based on current best estimates of climate change.
The use of climate sensitivity analyses for species and climate-envelope models to predict future habitats for fish and wildlife is fundamental to conservation planning for climate change. It is important to note that these models often do not include ecological interactions and so require experimental testing to become dependable predictive tools.

Establishing an array of climate-change monitoring sites that reflect climate change events in habitats.
An array of climate change monitoring sites that can be used to evaluate the regional climate models at ecologically important sites would allow early detection of climate change and help establish baseline biological data for populations, species, and habitats.

Establishing experimental areas that will test the potential to support fish and wildlife in new locations.
As climate change begins to affect habitats, it may become necessary to evaluate ecological interactions at new locations and among the new mix of species, as indicated by climate-envelope predictions. At its simplest, this may involve assisted migration of individuals from one geographic location to another. More likely it will involve much more complex, ecologically based actions that may better be characterized as transition ecology. The degree to which this can be successfully accomplished will depend on the level of understanding of species biology and nature of ecological and community interactions.

Evaluating the current and future need for captive propagation and seed storage to preserve species.
As climate change moves to more extreme states, there may be a need to consider maintaining species that no longer have native habitat in the wild. These species may include currently listed endangered and threatened species but may also include many unlisted species that will eventually become endangered by climate change. Climate envelope modeling can help identify the species that may eventually need captive propagation and/or seed storage assistance. 

Evaluating the need for future reserves or refuges.
Climate change may mean a changing role for landowners who manage lands for fish and wildlife conservation. Species may change as climate change alters habitats. These land managers will face the challenge of maintaining existing species and/or transitioning to new species compositions.


Last updated: November 2, 2011

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