Amanda Maxwell

Dec 9th 2022

Global Warming Impacts Migration Patterns


As the Earth rises in temperature, all living things on the planet are having to adapt. Climate change is forcing changes in plants’ and animals’ usual behavior for survival. For example, as global warming alters the seasons, early spring is advancing plant growth, and warmer temperatures are causing breeding cycles to progress earlier in the year. Migration patterns are shifting in response, bringing species into certain areas earlier in the year or as new residents.

Fossil fuel use is the major cause of these changes, which makes humans the biggest contributors to global warming. We will undoubtedly feel the effects of climate change beyond adverse weather events. Accordingly, we will need to prepare for food shortages, diseases spreading due to migration, and the loss of biodiversity as biomes shift around us.

What Is a Biome, and How Are Biomes Shifting?

The word biome refers to the biological communities found under a shared regional climate. Larger than a habitat (the physical environment in which species live), biomes comprise plants and animals, and a single biome can hold several different habitats containing numerous ecosystems, which Sciencing describes as systems of biological interaction between living things and their physical environments.

As Live Science notes, climate change is impacting global temperature and weather, which is altering the environment in turn. The increase in Earth’s average temperature is affecting weather patterns such as storms, precipitation and wind, in addition to making some areas warmer or colder. Less or more rain and heat can impact plant growth, affecting seasonal availability of food, while extreme weather events will render some habitats uninhabitable.

National Geographic lists the five major biomes as grassland, tundra, aquatic, desert and forest (rainforest and temperate). As climate change progresses, one prominent effect we will continue to see is certain biomes shifting locations.

Shifting Biomes Change Migration Patterns

As biomes move, migration patterns often move with them. Many animals migrate seasonally to make the best of resources and environmental conditions. Moving to an area with abundant food and a suitable climate helps these animals breed and raise their young. However, as a result of climate change, animals in both hemispheres are migrating earlier and moving closer to the poles to keep up with earlier growth seasons and cooler climates.

For example, NASA reports that tracking data on around 200 Arctic species collected between 1991 and 2019 shows that arctic animals are changing behavior as climate change impacts the region. The analysis showed that eagle migrations were beginning earlier each year, with the birds leaving their winter nesting sites and heading north for the summer. The eagles began the migration half a day earlier each year, which added up to a two-week advance in their migration over 25 years.

National Parks in the U.S. also hold key data pertaining to the effects of climate change. For instance, in addition to animals like the alpine-dwelling pika moving to higher altitudes to escape heat, trees are also “moving” further northward.

Scientific American reports that altered climate is affecting mule deer in Wyoming and Bewick’s swans in Europe. More frequent droughts are reducing vegetation growth along the mule deer migration corridor, resulting is less abundant food sources and shorter periods of availability. Mule deer are coping by moving more rapidly along their migration paths. In Europe, Bewick’s swans have altered their patterns of migration, shifting overwintering further east to find more suitable temperatures.

Even the iconic monarch butterfly is being impacted by climate change. Its migration patterns have shifted, forcing a longer journey to follow milkweed availability. As a result, they are growing larger wings to fly to breeding grounds further north.

Consequences of Chaotic Migration Patterns

Migration disruption also affects food resources. Because insect migration patterns are impacted by climate change as well, numerous species that depend on them as food are being forced to look elsewhere for sustenance, and at different times of year. Altered insect migration can also have another sinister side effect: disease. As insect species such as ticks and mosquitoes expand their ranges, they may also carry arthropod-borne disease such as Zika virus into new areas.

As food crops become more difficult to cultivate in some areas and increasingly severe weather makes certain regions uninhabitable, human migrations will also shift. Economic migration is mobilizing human populations to seek better living conditions and stability. Like war, the effects of climate irregularities are increasing the number of refugees around the world substantially.

In all, it’s clear that humans, the biggest contributors to global warming, cannot avoid all of the changes that climate change will bring. However, there are steps we can take now to counteract its adverse effects, both for ourselves and for all other forms of life on Earth.

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