How Refugia Will Protect Some Animals and Plants from Climate Change

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As climate change continues to impact ecosystems and habitats worldwide, Earth’s resilience will continue to show. There are places that researchers are finding that provide a more stable, healthy habitat for plants and animals to weather the changes Earth is undergoing. Although we cannot curb all the changes, we can look for alternatives to preserve what we can.

What are Refugia?

There are areas that, because of their unique topography and geography, feel the effects of climate change less severely than other places on the planet. Scientists and conservationists are working to find these refuge areas, known as refugia, in order to further land management plans and climate change predictions.


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Finding Refugia

Particular areas of research have focused on refugia in Acadia National Park in Maine, as well as areas of the Sierra Nevada in California. In both cases, students, researchers, and park rangers have taken up the work of gathering data, documenting species of plants and animals, and observing the factors that make a place a refuge from climate change.

Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo: NPS, public domain
Acadia National Park, Maine. Photo: NPS, public domain

Rangers first noticed the dramatic temperature changes that existed in the valley around the Devil’s Postpile in the Sierra Nevada. Upon further investigation, it was found that this area fit the description of a climate refugia. The topography of the valley and consistent shade during the hotter months cause this area to remain cooler and therefore more habitable for species of plants and animals than the surrounding areas.

Vertical columns of basaltic volcanic rock at Devils Postpile National Monument. Photo: NPS, public domain
Vertical columns of basaltic volcanic rock at Devils Postpile National Monument. Photo: NPS, public domain

The Importance of Refugia

Refugia are locations where plants and animals could potentially weather the changes that climate change brings. Species will flock to these areas and will create their own balance as their original habitats become unhealthy or inhospitable. Evidence of refugia have been seen in other great climate changes that the Earth has faced; for instance, paleoclimates existed during the last ice age that weren’t covered in glaciers or ice fields. These spaces allowed plants and animals (and even people) to survive during periods of extreme change.

In areas like the Devil’s Postpile and Acadia National Park, rangers and researchers will continue to identify native species that exist in that area and use that data to compile land management plans as the climate continues to change. How fully the climate will change is unknown, but the better prepared we are, the more we can do to protect the incredible diversity of life we have on Earth.

References

Sommer, Lauren. Where Animals and Plants Might Survive Climate Change. 30 September 2019. Retrieved from https://www.kqed.org/science/1948150/some-ecosystems-are-offering-refuge-for-wildlife-in-a-warming-world

USGS. Where Animals and Plants Might Survive Climate Change. 15 October 2019. Retrieved from https://www.usgs.gov/center-news/where-animals-and-plants-might-survive-climate-change


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