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Shifting Habitat

Shifting Habitat and Climate Change


Wildlife require habitat (food, water, shelter) to survive, and plants are what wildlife depend on for food either directly or indirectly. As temperatures rise and moisture levels change due to climate change, the plant communities that make up habitat for wildlife in New Hampshire will also change. Plants that require the colder temperatures will shift to where the temperatures are cooler. Some species may be able to adapt to shifting habitats while others may have to follow the food source they depend on. When a plant that provides food as well as homes for wildlife shifts, so will the wildlife. One example is the Canada lynx and the snowshoe hare, whose habitat is shifting northward because of their need for cold winters and snow. The lynx depends on the hare for food, so the lynx will also go where the food is. A report by the Audubon Society says that climate change could push some birds out of New Hampshire such as the purple finch, the state bird.



As habitat changes, new species of plants will grow, soils will change, precipitation will increase or decrease and this will create favorable conditions for plants that thrive in those conditions. The wildlife that live in the new habitat will also shift. This may include species that have not previously had established populations in our state.


How Shifting Habitat Affects Wildlife


In New Hampshire, high elevation spruce fir forests may be the habitat type most affected by climate change. Warmer temperatures allow other trees such as yellow birch to grow at these higher elevations pushing spruce fir out. The spruce fir forest is shifting northward where more favorable conditions exist and so too will the wildlife that depend on it. Wildlife that cannot adapt or migrate northward with the habitat may die out.


Wildlife whose southern range extends into New Hampshire from Maine and Canada, such as moose, northern bog lemmings, and snowshoe hare, may shift northward possibly out of the state entirely as the climate continues to change and warm.


Other habitats in New Hampshire that are listed as vulnerable to habitat shifting and alteration due to climate change include:

  • Coastal Islands
  • Hemlock Hardwood Pine Forests
  • Lowland Spruce Fir Forests
  • Marine
  • Northern Hardwood-Conifer Forest
  • Salt Marsh


What New Hampshire Fish and Game Is Doing in Response to Shifting Habitat


Fish and Game, along with conservation partners, is working on ways to monitor and identify how habitats shift across a landscape. Efforts include using Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) and other data to see how forests in New Hampshire have already changed, showing connections to climate patterns. This information will be used to predict further changes to forest habitat. The Department is also identifying species of greatest conservation need threatened by shifting habitat range and developing strategies to connect habitats by establishing wildlife corridors to support movement.


Shifting Habitat and People


As habitats shift, the plants we depend on for food or industry may no longer be plentiful. An example of this is the sugar maple. As the amount of snow we get in New Hampshire decreases, sugar maple trees will grow less each year and saplings will struggle to survive. This means that sugar maples will shift their habitat farther north in New Hampshire or out of the state altogether.


Coldwater fishing for trout will change as water temperature rises. Ponds and streams around the state will no longer support the habitat that trout depend on to survive. Trout fishing may only be available in the far north of New Hampshire. Warmwater fisheries should do very well, however.


Taking Action

  • Plant a pollinator garden.
  • Incorporate plants that bloom at different times into your landscape.
  • Educate yourself and share your understanding with friends and family about how climate change affects wildlife and habitats.     
  • Start planning now for good ecological health and get involved in your local community by addressing potential climate change issues in your town or region.     
  • Support and volunteer for environmental and conservation organizations that address climate change impacts to wildlife and habitats.
  • Become a citizen scientist and help collect data on plants, wildlife, water, and weather.