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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Critters React to Warming Temperatures in the Rockies

Golden-mantled ground squirrel quirrel climbing uphill in Colorado to escape warming temperatures from climate change

sheilaf2002/AdobeStock.com

A 13-year study at the University of Colorado at Boulder published in the journal Ecology reveals that the popular golden-mantled ground squirrel and 46 other species of rodents and shrews in Colorado are climbing uphill to escape warming temperatures in the state. The report states that, on average, the ranges of the animals have shifted more than 400 feet in elevation since the 1980s. Montane mammals, or those already living at higher elevations like the ground squirrel, have moved up 1,100 feet on average. It‘s a significant change that could rob them of their environmental niche. The same species may be harbingers of larger and more urgent changes in the Rocky Mountains.

Colorado has warmed by nearly 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1980s because of human-caused climate change. As the state continues to heat up, scientists say that ponderosa pine forests and other mountain ecosystems will have to move higher to find cooler weather. Beginning in 2008, the team visited multiple sites in Colorado’s Front Range and San Juan mountains to collect records of the current ranges of 47 species of rodents and shrews. They compared their findings with approximately 4,500 historic records from museum collections dating back to the 1880s and included animal specimens stored at the university museum, which houses nearly 12,000 mammals from Colorado.

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