Effects of Climate Change on Natural Habitats

Thatcher Brook in Attleboro, MA

The health of wildlife, people, and the habitats they rely on are all interconnected. Our natural lands provide us with food, clean our water, and filter our air.

Effects on one part on an ecosystem affect other parts over time, and climate change is already altering many wildlife habitats vital to New England.

Woods & Forests 

Warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are driving forests northward, to higher elevation, or to less optimal soil. Many tree species may lose their advantage over species found farther south.  

View into the bay from Long Pasture © Mark Sullivan
© Mark Sullivan

Oceans 

Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, and more acidic waters threaten our world’s most prominent ecosystem. Marine species, birds, and the people that rely on the ocean are feeling the effects.

Rivers, Lakes, Ponds, & Wetlands 

Rising temperatures, changing seasonal precipitation, and stronger storms create conditions that can severely compromise the health of water bodies. Coldwater species are losing their advantage to warmwater species. Lakes may become stagnant more frequently and develop algal blooms, while stronger storms lead to more flooding and erosion.

Rough Meadows sanctuary © Alan B Ward
© Alan B Ward

The good news is that there is much we can do to solve these challenges at the community scale.

Salt Marshes 

Salt marshes survive in a delicate balance between their own growth and changing sea levels. If sea levels rise or coastal habitats erode too rapidly, large areas of marshland can be eliminated. 

Beaches and Barrier Islands 

Low-lying coastal beaches, like those that line much of New England's shore, may be some of the most vulnerable habitats to climate change.

Vernal pool at Lincoln Woods Wildlife Sanctuary

Warmer water temperatures are disrupting food webs while sea level rise and stronger storms are flooding and eroding areas critical to people and wildlife.

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools are isolated, temporary bodies of water that eventually dry out each year. Precipitation changes, earlier snow melts, and more frequent summer droughts mean that many vernal pools in Massachusetts will be severely disrupted or may cease to exist altogether. 

Grasslands, Agriculture, & Open Fields 

Grasslands and agricultural fields are experiencing numerous effects from climate change. 

West Mountain in Plainfield © Richard Johnson
© Richard Johnson

On one hand, higher carbon dioxide concentrations and longer growing seasons may be beneficial to some crops in the near future. 

On the other hand, increasing chances of summer drought, freeze damage to early buds, and faster spread of invasive species are among the challenges these landscapes may face.

Urban & Suburban 

In addition to climate change, urban and suburban areas face challenges of over-development and environmental contamination—risks that compound one another. 

Devens narrow road

Rising temperatures increase the risk of extreme heat waves, stronger storms can lead to more frequent flooding and water quality issues, and rising sea levels place infrastructure at risk.

For more information on addressing the challenges of climate change in our communities, check out our Shaping the Future of Your Community program.