They’re calling it “global weirding” – the way in which rising temperatures are causing species to change their ranges, the timing of their migrations, and the way they interact with other living things. And the implications of all this are only beginning to be understood.
The concept of “global weirding” is emerging as a notable complement to its cause, global warming. Coined by Hunter Lovins, a founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, it describes the consequences of the rise in average global temperatures, which are expected to amplify the abnormal: hotter heat spells, longer and sharper droughts, more violent storms, and more intense flooding.
Given anticipated warming trajectories, many of these physical changes are statistically predictable and can be fairly accurately modeled. But as an ecologist, I fear it is the alterations to the living realm where “weirdness” will be a most apropos, if not downright tepid, label. This is certainly the case in my area of study — the aquatic realm — where global weirding is already well underway.
Forecasted biological changes due to warming often are as rudimentary as plots on maps where a species’ heat tolerances are superimposed on modeled temperature increases. This initial, or “first order,” assessment
Warming is forcing the planet to launch a giant ecological experiment in which organisms will increasingly interact with other organisms.
usually results in calculations of the species’ range shifting poleward — often accentuating actual movements already detected. Thus, if you live north of the equator you may learn that some beetle, bird, or vine is advancing from the south and may be seen in your backyard by 2018. New information, to be sure, but so what? What of its interactions with other organisms, including you? That is, how will it fit in the speedily evolving ecosystem and will it play a new role? And what of the effects of other species deserting locations they’ve long inhabited?
In New York’s Hudson River estuary, for example, rainbow smelt historically ran up its many tributaries, where they were enthusiastically netted for food as the first anadromous fish to appear each spring. But as a boreal species at the southern end of its range in a warming river, the Hudson’s rainbow smelt runs faded in the late 20th century, with the last individuals seen in 1998 — part of its general retreat northward from the waters of New York and southern New England.