Wildlife and Weather

Wildlife and Weather

If you’ve been following the news, it’s likely you’ve heard about Hurricane Ophelia – the storm that’s set to sweep through the U.K. in the coming days. Climate change means more severe weather events. The past couple months have shown how much devastation these storms can cause, and how human populations and structures can be affected. A lot of people still wonder how the local wildlife fares. So what happens to the many plants and animals around the world when a storm comes in?

Hurricane-Ophelia

Hurricane Ophelia

Effects

The storms cause all manner of destruction, like flooding, destruction of habitat, wind displacement, loss of food sources. Many migrating birds are affected as they are blown off course. Especially younger or weak birds are affected, as they are separated from the flock. It can take weeks, using up valuable resources, to get back on track. The strong winds that defoliate trees mean other species, like jays, can’t hide as easily from predators. Squirrels can be easily blown from trees, causing an increase in orphaned squirrel litters. Their food caches can be lost as well, so many more may die as winter approaches. Aquatic mammalian species, like manatees, can often be beached by the turbulent waves. Other aquatic species, like fish, also suffer adverse effects from the rainfall. It can cause oxygen levels to drop in water, causing asphyxiation. Washed sediment (or larger objects) into streams immediately destroys fish habitats.

The long-term effects can seriously harm wildlife as well. The loss of trees means many species suffer from an unrecoverable decrease in available habitat, or a fragmented habitat. Endangered species are particularly vulnerable to these storms, as an anomalous weather event can decimate their population beyond recovery, unlike other affected species. As saltwater encroaches on brackish or marshy areas, the delicate balance between freshwater and saltwater that many species depend on is thrown off. In the long run, it can potentially kill off bottom land forests and other coastal trees. The reverse can happen too, with a large increase of freshwater (from rainfall) affecting salt-dependent species.

White-tailed Tropicbirds in Irene

 

Making the best of a bad situation

Although there’s no wildlife news service, many animals are able to sense drops in barometric pressure and infrared sound. Many birds may leave the area, or event migrate early.  Other species, like burrowing owls and snakes, are able to take cover to avoid the worst of the storm. Unlikely as it may seem, some types of even benefit from the winds and rain. For example, orchids use the strong winds to aid in dispersal of their seeds. Some amphibians, like gopher frogs and spadefoot toads, can use the increased rainfall to breed. Urban scavengers like raccoons and crows can scavenge in the wreckage after a hurricane, finding new food sources. Other animals like black bears and ground birds use fallen trees and brush as new sources of habitat.

Raccoon scavenging

 

Ways to help

There are a number of wildlife organisations to donate to, both local (such as the Houston SPCA Wildlife Center of Texas) and global (like World Animal Protection). To make a hands-on difference, why not volunteer with a local organisation? Apart from monetary assistance, it’s important to remember that many species are best helped by being left alone. You can call local wildlife centres for rescues like baby squirrels or chicks. Make sure to research the species you find to know how to help it without causing more harm.

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Elena Ruiz

Elena Ruiz

Full-time MRes student, part-time baking enthusiast.
Elena Ruiz

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