They Came from Climate Change

New report details how a host of harmful and destructive species are poised to benefit from climate change

04-01-2010 // Aislinn Maestas
Fire Ants

The horrifying hordes of Climate Invaders are upon us - creeping up from lower elevations, attacking from foreign countries, and settling into areas where once they were unable to survive.

Some very nasty and potentially dangerous species are poised to benefit from climate change,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation. “In the not too distant future we could see ticks that spread Lyme disease expanding their range, cheatgrass fueling more wildfires, and poison ivy causing more rashes.”

As climate change causes winters to warm and seasons to shift, a host of exotic invasives and destructive natives are marching their way into our lives at an ever increasing rate. Unless they are stopped, these invaders will continue to spread disease, destroy valuable natural resources and push out the native plants and wildlife Americans cherish.

Forest Fire in Eldorado National Forest

“A common chant from climate deniers is that climate change will be good for life on earth,” said Inkley. “The truth is that some species will indeed benefit. It just so happens that many of them are the ones we’d like to prevent from spreading.”

They Came from Climate Change  profiles seven species that are primed to expand in range, increase in toxicity, or grow in number due to warmer winters and a shift in seasons caused by global warming. According to the report:

Milder winters are projected to increase the range of deer tick populations by 68 percent in North America by later this century. 

Within the lifespan of a child born today, the range of the red imported fire ant in the United States could expand northward by about 80 miles and expand in total area by 21 percent as climate change makes new areas suitable for their survival.

Poison Ivy

Poison ivy is expected to become more “toxic” as a result of increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

If summer precipitation declines significantly, this could expand the amount of suitable land for cheatgrass by up to 45 percent, bringing increased wildfire risks with it.

Several species of the water-hogging salt cedar shrub are poised to take full advantage of a changing climate in the western United States, where water is already scarce.

Absent the severe winter cold which kills over-wintering beetle larvae, pine bark beetle populations have exploded to unprecedented levels across the Western United States, killing billions of trees.

Climate change is likely to aid further range expansion northward in the United States of the Asian tiger mosquito, increasing disease transmission potential.

Asian Tiger Mosquito

People often think of climate change as some far away problem having to do only with polar bears and ice caps,” said Patty Glick, global warming specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. “The reality is that climate change impacts are being seen and felt in backyards around the country. Without action to curb carbon pollution, no place will be safe from these and other climate invaders.”

According to the report, repelling the advance of these exotic invasives and destructive native species will require a combination of curbing the global warming pollution that is fueling their advance, restoring the habitats they are destroying, and preventing new invaders from reaching America’s shores.

We need an army of American workers working on American lands to fend off the attack of these invaders and keep our communities safe and resilient in the face of climate change,” said Derek Brockbank, conservation funding manager at the National Wildlife Federation. “To meet the challenge before us, Congress must pass climate legislation that includes a significant dedicated investment to protect and restore the rivers, coasts, forests and wild lands threatened by climate change.”

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