Climate change threatening Illinois' wildlife, forests, grasslands

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The impacts of climate change on wildlife throughout Illinois is already showing up.

Warmer weather, especially in the winter, combined with more frequent heavy rain events, is having a slew of effects on the grasslands, forests and the wildlife of Illinois.

Of all the natural areas in Illinois, 75% is grasslands, this is where we are seeing some of the greatest impacts of climate change.

"Multiple species from insects to your mammals and birds utilize that as their major resource. So as that changes you are changing of our state in the wildlife world," said Peggy Doty, University of Illinois Extension Office.

Something as simple as a slight shift in when insects hatch can have a profound effect on a lot of our native birds.

"Our cardinals, that's what they feed their offspring. They don't feed them seeds. They're at your feeder all winter. They're feeding their offspring insects. And they will often be in the grass jumping in your grass trying to disrupt flying insects," said Doty.

Red headed woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches are other native birds that are at risk from climate change.

Some plants and animals might actually benefit from climate change but many of these are invasive and that could be a threat to the native ecosystem.

A milder climate is especially helpful to the invasive species already found in our lakes and rivers.

"We think about Asian carp, zebra mussels. These are all species that have thrived in a warmer environment," said Trent Ford, Illinois State Climatologist.

Forests might eventually expand due to climate change but certain tree species will likely suffer.

"For seedlings of ash, maple and oak, the success rate of them growing to maturity is decreased significantly. If the seeds are growing in an environment that has Japanese stiltgrass in them," said Ford.
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