These Maps Predict Where Animals of the Future Will Make Their Homes

As our climate changes, so too do the species that thrive, fail, or migrate in an area. A new modeling tool takes what we know about our changing climate and the habits of animals, and gives us a look at just how much climate change could alter the animals in our midst.

Top image: Map: A high-resolution look at where Wolverines might be found in 2050 (red for more likelihood, blue for less) courtesy of Aimee Stewart for Lifemapper. Wolverine picture: Jeangagnon

Lifemapper is a project from Kansas University's Biodiversity Institute that created a mapping tool combining what we know about how animals currently move and survive in the world (scrapped from the databases of museums around the world) with the projections for how our climate will shift and alter in the coming years (via the projections from International Panel on Climate Change Assessment Reports).

Using the data collected for how we've seen animals distributed throughout the world both under our current conditions and in the past, researchers came up with a model that looks at what kinds of climates have been able to support different species of animals — and where those conditions are projected to be found in the future. You can also adjust the projection based on how different predictions for population growth, economic development, and environmental sustainability will shake out.

"It's like a formula for where that species can exist based on those climate conditions," lead engineer for the project Aimee Stewart explained to io9. "Then, what we do is we take future climate conditions and we project it on to the maps."

Of course, as the researchers point out, there's no guarantee that the animals will actually continue to migrate to the climates that have been favorable to them thus far. There are other factors at play as well, including news predators, food chain and supply issues, new terrains, and a host of other habitability factors that could keep an animal from thriving in a new area.

Still, it's fascinating to see how far afield the current sightings of animal (represented on the maps by the yellow pins) is to where the climate that it has lived in may be found in 2050 (shown in red).

Consider this map of the range of the American red wolf under the projections for 2050:

These Maps Predict Where Animals of the Future Will Make Their Homes

Or for Rana Alticola, a forest frog that makes it's home in the South Asian subcontinet.

These Maps Predict Where Animals of the Future Will Make Their Homes

Or, especially incredibly, check out what happens to climate haunts of the African Grass Owl by 2050:

These Maps Predict Where Animals of the Future Will Make Their Homes

You can check out the Lifemapper tool — and generate some maps of your own — right here.

Maps: Lifemapper