How Climate Change Affects Tennessee's Wildlife

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has released a report entitled “Climate Change and Potential Impacts to Wildlife in Tennessee,” a comprehensive review of the scientific literature on climate change and its expected impacts on fish and wildlife and the habitats that they occupy. For the remainder of this century, Tennessee’s climate is projected to get warmer, and precipitation patterns could also change dramatically.

“Climate change is a serious issue that poses significant challenges for fish and wildlife in Tennessee,” said Greg Wathen, TWRA’s Chief of Wildlife. “Warming temperatures over the remainder of this century can have potentially serious consequences for many species, especially those that rely on our wetlands, cold water habitats, and high elevation habitats. As Congress and the nation deliberate on a national strategy to address climate change, we want to ensure that natural resources adaptation is a part of that conversation.”

A team of about 20 TWRA biologists and managers authored the report, which looks at the potential impacts of a warming climate on various habitats and the fish and wildlife that rely on them. Major sections of the report reviewed scientific literature on forests, aquatic habitats, caves, birds, amphibians and reptiles, mammals, and adaptation strategies.

Some of the key findings of the review include:

Forests could experience dramatic changes in biomass and forest type, with current high elevation forests being lost entirely as a result of higher temperatures.

Migratory birds, including waterfowl and many songbirds, are expected to be negatively impacted due to climate change. Migratory songbirds may experience disrupted migration patterns. Waterfowl that nest in the prairies of the northern U.S. and Canada may experience lowered reproductive capacity due to drying conditions on their breeding grounds.

Some species that rely on early successional habitat, such as northern bobwhite and ruffed grouse, may benefit from warmer temperatures and drier conditions.

Rivers and streams, and some lakes, will be impacted by warmer temperatures associated with climate change. High elevation streams are expected to be especially vulnerable.

Temperature sensitive species that inhabit caves, including the federally endangered Indiana bat, may be vulnerable to warming temperatures.

“Our report on climate change and its impacts to wildlife in Tennessee is an assessment of the current state of knowledge of the changes that could occur in our aquatic and terrestrial habitats with continued warming temperatures over the next 50 to 100 years. We also identified adaptation strategies that we believe can help wildlife under a warming climate. In most cases, these strategies would address issues and stresses that are already impacting wildlife, which will worsen in a warming climate.”