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The USGS National Wildlife Health Center, in partnership with the USGS Climate Adaptation Science Center Network, is leading a one-year project to understand and prepare for emerging challenges related to fish and wildlife health, disease, and climate change across North America.

A school of non-hybridized westslope cutthroat trout.
(Credit: Jonny Armstrong. Public domain.)

The objectives of this national-scale project are to review and synthesize existing information on the impacts of climate change on fish and wildlife health and disease. Project partners will then use this information to highlight gaps in our current understanding of the problem and identify  unique areas of concern.

“Climate change will continue to have significant effects on the health of fish and wildlife,” says Olivia LeDee, Deputy Director of the Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center. “Understanding future disease risk across the country is crucial for preparing for and potentially warding off serious threats to important natural resources.”

Shifts in temperature and precipitation can increase the physiological stress of wildlife, while changes in the timing of life cycle events (known as phenology) can increase the exposure of wildlife to threatening pathogens. Simultaneously, changes in climate can increase the risk of disease transmission by affecting the range and distribution of diseases and the emergence or altered survival of pathogens. The resulting impacts on the reproduction and survival of some wildlife species could have broad implications, potentially posing challenges to recreationally and commercially harvested fish and wildlife populations, threatened and endangered species, and human communities.

Mule deer looking back at camera, standing on grassy slope with blue sky in background
(Public domain.)

This project will provide much needed information to resource managers who are responsible for anticipating and responding to these future threats. The synthesis piece of the project is currently underway and project researchers are now putting plans in motion to hold a workshop in early 2020 that will bring together scientific experts and resource managers from federal, state, and tribal organizations. The workshop will provide a venue for scientists and stakeholders to come together to deepen their understanding of the problems at hand and collaboratively develop plans for moving forward. The resulting synthesis information will be made available in an online, searchable database.

This project is being undertaken as a joint effort between the national and eight regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers and the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC). “The impacts of climate change and the transmission of pathogens do not adhere to state or regional boundaries,” said Erik Hofmeister, Research Virologist with the NWHC and research lead on this project. “This national-scale, collaborative approach will allow us to take a more comprehensive look at the current research and shed light on emerging high priority wildlife health threats across the country.”

Learn more about this effort and track project products as they become available on our project webpage.

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