Climate change is making the habitat of many species unsuitable, forcing wildlife to move to new places in search of suitable habitat. We use computer models to study the ‘climate paths’ along which species are moving, and have found that fluctuations in climate can cause gaps in the climate path that stop species in their tracks. We also study the characteristics that make some species more likely to move along their climate paths than others. We’ve found that what species eat, how fast they breed and how well they survive in different habitats are just as important as simply on how far species can move.
Some species seem to be moving really quickly under climate change. For example, the Small Red-Eyed damselfly, St Piran’s crab and the Gilt-head bream have recently spread into the British Isles from warmer parts on the European continent. We’re asking whether species like this pose any threat to UK ecosystems, or whether they are climatic refugees that we should try to protect here.
Other species won’t make it without our help. One question we ask is how best to protect species affected by climate change – habitat corridors or managed relocation?
When predicting the effects of climate change, one of the great unknowns is how important are interactions between species. Climate change could mean that a species gains more species to eat, is eaten by more species, or has to compete with more species. We’re measuring how these interactions depend on temperature and rainfall, and so might change in the future.
And of course, climate change has happened before. Species’ ranges shifted as the world warmed from past ice ages, and we’re trying to find out what that can tell us about climate change today.