The Effects of Global Warming on Units of National ParksIn today's day in age, man has influenced much of the world thatwas there before they arrived – some call this place the wild, othersnature, and still some Mother Earth. Fact of the matter is, the world ischanging and not for the better in terms of nature. In order to preservesome of the large expanses of wilderness in the US, National Parkswere created. However, even these parks feel the indirect effects ofman, such as global warming.
This problem has many different effectson National Parks and the rest of the world, such as loss of glaciationand increased temperatures at high altitudes. Before we get into thespecific effects global warming has on national parks, I will delve intothe broad effects that it has caused and will cause in the future.Since 1880, the global temperature has increased 1.4F (17). Theareas that have had the highest increase in temperatures are locatedin the far Northern hemisphere, and far Southern hemisphere – thepoles.
Many of the ice caps in both hemispheres have melted off orfallen off into the ocean, causing loss of habitat for many animals, suchas polar bears and Adélie penguins. This has caused polar bears tomigrate farther and farther south where there is still ice to stand on,and has encroached on the territory of Grizzly bears. This melting hasalso caused the seas level to rise considerably and could be a majorproblem in the foreseeable future. Besides the ice caps melting,glaciers and mountain snows at high elevations are feeling the heat aswell.
Since 1910, the loss of glaciers has been staggering, with only 27left in Glacier National Park.
Going with the idea of mountain topsbecoming warmer, this has threatened the existence of many speciesthat only survive at mountain elevations, and has invited in new, andmany times invasive species into the area that are detrimental tonative species and the unique ecosystem. Warmer weather also bringsdifferent seasonal patters, such as shorter frost period, earlier sprouting weeks, and earlier weather patterns (such as rain). Thisaffects some plants more than others, which over time has a hugeeffect on the biodiversity of an area, as some plants that don'tnormally sprout earlier than others suddenly start doing so and takeover the area. One last thing attributed to global warming, althoughnot entirely it's fault so to speak, is an increase in the amount ofsevere weather events like wildfires and hurricanes. This is but a shortversion of the effects of global warming, and it can only get worse fromhere unless something is actively done to slow it down. In the comingparagraphs, I will elaborate how global warming has become a majorissue in National Parks when concerning the wellbeing of the speciesthat reside there.The first park we will visit is Great Smoky National Park, locatedalong the border of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.With one of the greatest levels of biodiversity in the world, it is no surprise that there are species under siege due to the effects of globalwarming. So far, two of the Park's largest populations of trees – theEastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) –have been devastated by two related invasive species. The hemlockwooly adeligd (Adelges tsugae), which effects the E Hemlock, and thebsalm wooly adelgid (Adelges picae), which effects the Fraser fir, havefound themselves at home in the Smokys (13, 21).
Climbing temperatures have allowed these invasive species to start destroyingthousands of trees of each species, as so much that conservationefforts have been put in place to help save the trees. Without thesetrees, a plethora of species is in danger, such as the spruce-fir mossspider (Microhexura montivaga), which is endemic to the highelevation areas of the Smoky's (25). With the Spruce-Fir forest startingto crumble due to the adelgids aforementioned, this little critter won'tstand a chance of survival and may very well go extinct. Also up inthese high elevations is the red-cheeked salamander (Plethodonjordani) (22). This, like the spruce-fir moss spider, is only found in thehigh elevations of the Smoky Mountains. With rising temperatures, it isgetting harder and harder for it to survive, as it needs a cool, damp,and shady habitat to live in. The last species to be discussed is theeastern hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) (14). This speciesresides in cold, rushing water, and thrives there as long as the water isnot polluted (which has been a problem). What global warming will do is warm up that water, causing there to be less dissolved Oxygen in thewater for the hellbender to use – a huge stressor especially come Julyand August. On top of that, hellbenders rely on the swing of temperatures between night and day to maintain a healthy immunesystem. With a possible decrease in that swing, their health decreasesand their susceptibility to disease increases.
These are only five of themany species that will be potentially affected by global warming.The Everglades, located in Southern Florida, is one of the largestand most fragile ecosystems in the US. Since global warming causessea levels to rise, and because the Everglades is a broad and shallowriver of grass, it is potentially very sensitive to sea level changescaused by global warming (5). The seagrass, for example manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme), that grows underneath the shallow water could be severely affected by higher water levels because they needclear, shallow water to survive (24). Higher water levels will causeprobable increased turbidity and decreased water quality, along withmore frequent hurricanes caused by global warming. Besides risingsea levels, higher water temperatures may be too high for somespecies and if combined with nutrient pollution in the water, allowmore algae to grow in seagrass areas, thus reducing sunlight. Thesefactors put together will cause massive changes in the distribution andabundance of seagrass, which in turn puts the Manatee (Trichechus) atrisk as well, since their diet consists of plants (11, 26).
Without seagrass, or with a change in its distribution, manatees will suffer andmay start migrating out of the park (North most likely) and into moredangerous waters where boats hitting manatees are a problem. The Southern United States, especially the Everglades, has some thegreatest species range for reptiles, so it's no surprise that they will beaffected as well. The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), Florida RedBelly Turtle (Pseudemys nelson), Green Turtle (Cheloniamydas), and other species of turtles are very sensitive to temperature (20, 23). The temperature of the nest determines sex among thesespecies, so with increasing temperatures we could possibly see sexratios become skewed. Also, climate change will change the dynamicof the Everglades, with a possibility that it could cause habitatfragmentation and alteration (such as increased salinity andtemperature), which alligators, green turtles, and Florida redbellyturtles are sensitive to. Lastly, for the green turtle there will beexpected loss of seagrass, one of it's main food sources in theEverglades (7).Yosemite National Park is situated in Eastern California, and isone of the state's most iconic places. Yet, despite all the love it getsfrom the world, it too is being affected by global warming. The American pika (Ochotona Princeps) historically lived in the highmountain areas 7,500 feet and above (8). However, today there are nopikas below 9,500 feet, and it is believed that it is because of warming temperatures. Pikas can die at temperatures 78 F and above, which explains why they have been slowly moving upslope for the past 100years (12). Depending on how bad global warming continues to get,the pika may have nowhere else to go. Global warming has alsocaused an increase in the intensity and number of forest fires acrossthe park by causing drier and hotter weather to fuel them (19, 29). The great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) nests in snags, trees that are dead but still standing. Increased intensity of fires has been incinerating thesetrees to the point where the owl cannot use them to nest in. Also, itsmain food source is the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus), whichdoes not burrow and cannot escape the fires. Thus, both species aresuffering because global warming is causing these intense fires. Someamphibians, such as the mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana muscosa),are also being affected by climate change (4,15).
With increasedtemperatures, the snowpacks in Yosemite have decreased dramaticallyand may cause it's lakes and streams to dry out during the summertime when the frog breeds (10). Also, global warming has allowed thechytrid fungus to make it's way into northern areas and devastateamphibian populations. The Yosemite toad (Anaxyrous canorus) is alsobeing affected by this deadly fungus.Yellowstone national park is located in the upper left corner of Wyoming along the Rocky Mountains. In this park, there has been a drop off in amphibians, specifically the blotched tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum melanostictum), the boreal chorus frog(Pseudacris triseriata maculata), and the Colombia spotted frog (Ranaluteiventris) (16). This is because of the slow trend toward drought in the park, as not all the ponds and ephemeral pools that had amphibianlife 25 years ago do so anymore, and can be linked to long term andlarge scale climatic trends. The trumpeter swan (Cygnus buccinator) isexperiencing the effects of loss of water as well (4). The small pondsleft behind by the glaciers (kettle ponds) have been decreasing (as saidabove), and for the swan they use to nest and to escape predators. As a result, the species has decreased 73% since 1931. Mammals are alsobeing affected by this trend of global warming, as the wolverine (Gulogulo), has experienced habitat loss (28). This mammal lives up inhigher elevations, and needs deep snow to build their dens. Withtemperatures increasing in the park, their territories have grownsmaller and more fragmented.Voyageurs National Park is on the border of Canada and NorthEastern Minnesota, and is made up of largely boreal forests and bodiesof water. With 4 different environments surrounding the park,temperature change will, and already has had an effect on the park.White spruce (Picea glauca) and balsam fir (Abies balsamea) are twospecies that risk being eventually expelled because of increasingtemperature, as they would start retreating up into Canada, and bereplaced with Northern hardwood forest (2, 27).
Besides the forest receding and changing the entire dynamic of the park, northern pike(Esox lucius) and Lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) are at risk as well.These species live in cold water fisheries, but increasing watertemperatures in the park will make unsuitable living conditions forthese sport fish. Warmer water temperatures in both the water and theair will affect the moose (Alces alces), as they will have to adjust theirbrowsing and thermoregulatory behaviors (18). As water temperaturesin ponds gets closer to air temperature, the moose will be unable toutilize them, and instead look at lakes and beaver ponds as sources offood and ways to keep their body temperature down.All the way up North lies Acadia National Park on coast of Maine.It's a collection of islands, bays, and sounds with a diverse and fragilecomposition, and is currently trying to adjust to the effects of global warming (6). Because of the warmer winters, there has been an increase in cases of Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) from ticks (1).Also, global warming has invited many invasive species up from thesouth, as they've made themselves at home while kicking out othernative species. Some of these invasive species include Morrow'shoneysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) and the purple loosestrife (Lythrumsalicaria) and are replacing native plants, such as various orchards andlilies. They have been so successful in part because they are used to awarmer and wetter weather, so the transition has been easy.
Specifically, Morrows honeysuckle has been able to displace native plants because it's sensitive to temperature – the earlier seasonalthaws allow it to reproduce and start growing earlier than other plantsand ultimately displace them. Along the coast of Acadia (and Maine), warmer waters have also affected the demographics of fish and othercrustaceans. The black sea bass (Centropristis striata) has slowly beenmaking its way up the North coast and coming in closer to the shore.These predators like to hangout near the shallow, rocky coast and eatjuvenile American lobsters (Homarus americanus), and because this isan invasive species it has changed the distribution of lobster in thearea. As fish (black sea bass) move up from the south, other speciesare heading north, like the herring. The herrings predator from above,the puffin (Fratercula artica), will most likely have to adjust their homerange in order to stick with one of their sources of prey.Global warming is in full swing, and many if not all of the nation'snational parks are being affected. Whether the warmer temperaturesare allowing southern invasive species to displace native species, or ifa rising sea level could destroy habitats on the coast and put speciesat risk, a solution needs to be found. Without one, many of the parksand places we take for granted will no longer be the beautiful refugesthey once were.
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