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Restricting Competitors Could Help Species Cope with Climate Change

Jun 24, 2014 04:04 PM EDT

Animal species already threatened by climate change can better cope with its effects if competition from other animals for the same habitats is restricted, according to new research by Durham University.

Climate change is contributing to species' dwindling habitats. And with prime real estate being even rarer these days, competition for these areas is at an ultimate high.

"Species might be squeezed in future due to a combination of climate change and competition with new species expanding into their current habitat," lead author and former Durham PhD student Dr. Tom Mason said in a statement.

The team looked into how climate change was impacting Alpine Chamois, a species of mountain goat, and the effects their neighboring domestic sheep had on their movements.

Normally, during the summer months Chamois took to higher altitudes where temperatures were cooler to seek refuge from the heat. However, when sheep were lurking about, the mountain goats climbed even higher - about 100 meters (328 feet).

"As the global climate warms, many animals are moving to higher latitudes and altitudes, where it is cooler," said co-author Dr. Stephen Willis.

But, "The presence of flocks of sheep - which compete with Chamois for food - disturbed the normal behavioral patterns of Chamois, forcing them to much higher elevations than they would normally use," he added.

The researchers note that we often think of climate change as the major driving force determining where animals live, but another factor is a little more tangible and close to home. If local competition for habitat and resources were eliminated, it may give threatened species a fighting chance at adapting to climate change.

In the case of the Alpine Chamois, they may cope better if sheep were prevented from going into high elevations in some areas.

The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, provides a valuable insight into how managing the interaction of different species could influence changes in animal distributions predicted under climate change.

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