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Map Reveals Biodiverse “Hotspots” to Help Species Survive Climate Change

The Southern Blue Ridge Mountains are among the most climate-resilient landscapes in the U.S., according to new research by a team of scientists at The Nature Conservancy. (Adobe Stock)
The Southern Blue Ridge Mountains are among the most climate-resilient landscapes in the U.S., according to new research by a team of scientists at The Nature Conservancy. (Adobe Stock)
October 15, 2020

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Animals are on the move to escape rising temperatures and increased floods and drought, but some could find refuge in North Carolina's Sandhills and Southern Blue Ridge, according to a new map developed by scientists at The Nature Conservancy.

The map pinpoints biodiverse "hotspots" that are likely to be buffered from dramatic climate changes.

Jeffrey Marcus, applied scientist at The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina, said as temperatures warm, critters that need colder climates will migrate north to survive. He stressed it's critical they're able to move across landscapes.

"We can't think about just one small place," Marcus contended. "You can't have a protected park and think, because you've protected that park, that everything is fine. We need to be thinking about landscapes and how we can keep whole, natural and functioning landscapes intact."

He added each decade, some species are moving an average of 11 miles north and 36 feet higher in elevation in search of more hospitable places to live. But research shows nearly 60% of U.S. lands and waters are fragmented by human development, preventing species from finding new homes.

Marcus noted parts of North Carolina have unique features that boost resilience to a changing climate.

"Particularly in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there's lots of topography, so you have north-facing slopes and south-facing slopes, some of which are hotter, some of which are cooler," Marcus explained. "You have changes in elevation. In the Sandhills, likewise, you have these rolling hills, intermixed between wetlands and contiguous forests, and places that have these resilient features."

Liz Kalies, director of science at The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina, said it's critical for developers, conservation groups and businesses to help preserve the "hotspots" identified on the map.

"So one thing we really want is for these places to remain undeveloped," Kalies urged. "In North Carolina, as we've worked with the solar industry, we've delivered that map to them, we've given them the spatial data behind the map and said, 'We feel strongly that these are the places that you should avoid.' And you know, it's supported by good science."

The team of scientists also mapped "natural highways" across the country, connecting corridors that will allow species to move safely within and between climate-resilient regions.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in North Carolina contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species and Wildlife, Energy Policy, and Environment. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC