Mesmerizing Animation Shows Potential Animal Escape Routes in a Warming World

“Migrations in Motion” models the journeys over 2,900 species may take to find new habitats

Every year, as the weather cools and the winter months creep up, many species make the slow trek to find better food and warmer shelters—birds, caribou and even wildebeest make the venture. But as climate change unravels ecosystems and alters habitats around the world, many other species will need to learn to move on to greener pastures.

Nature Conservancy cartographer and analyst Dan Majka illustrated this future grand migration in a mesmerizing map he calls Migrations in Motion. Using data from a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science and a 2013 study in Ecology LettersMajka charted out the potential migrations of mammals, birds, and amphibians in the western hemisphere. The flowing squiggles represent movements of 2,954 vertebrate species expected to change location as temperatures climb and sea level rises.

But for these migrations to succeed, the animals need protected corridors to move from one region to another. These "animal highways" allow the creatures to more easily move through an often highly developed landscape, Jenny McGuire, author of the PNAS study and researcher at the Georgia Institute of Technology, tells Simone Scully at Business Insider.

Human development has fragmented some animal habitats so severely that few lands remain naturally connected. Though in the western United States, 51 percent of lands provide natural corridors, in the east, only two percent of lands are connected enough for migration. The U.S. needs to boost the connections between its forests, bogs, prairies and other natural areas by 65 percent to give most species a fighting chance, according to McGuire's research.

Margaret Rhodes reports for Wired that Majka used “flow model” from electronic circuit theory to produce the future migration visualization, which shows species steering around bodies of water and large urban areas like New York or Chicago.  

It’s a beautiful map, but at the same time it's a terrifying reminder that the world is changing very fast, though sometimes it is difficult to notice those shifts in day to day life. “I don’t know if in our lifetimes we’ll see these migrations that are extreme and obvious,” Majka tells Rhodes. “It’s a little more subtle than that.”

The Migrations in Motion website offers a few tips on how to create new corridors to help animals adapt. Suggestions to help species find their new homes include: removing fences, building wildlife overpasses and underpasses on major highways and rerouting pipelines and powerlines.

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