Mecklenburg County has some new residents. Animals not native to the county have moved in over the past couple of decades. One possible reason is climate change.
County staff tramp through a patch of woods just off the I-85-University Avenue exit in Charlotte. They are taking note of the area’s flora and fauna, some of which is native and increasingly rare.
Natural resources coordinator Lenny Lampel points to a small white flower peaking out of dead leaves on the bank of a creek.
“Blood root. They just bloom for a very short time in the early spring,” Lampel says. “It’s not common anymore. Usually now they’re kind of restricted to some of the better quality habitats, especially along some of these nicer quality creeks. One time, I’m sure, it was probably much more widespread than it is now.”
Invasive species and development have thinned native populations like the blood root. The county may buy this land as a nature preserve to protect them. At the same time, over the past couple of decades, county staff and volunteers noticed another trend—animals moving in from the south. The county’s biannual environmental report notes two birds, the Eurasian Collared Dove and the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, have both been spotted in the area. Lampel says he has seen an increase in certain tree frogs and butterflies.
“Now we’re starting to see them more commonly at different points of the year in our region,” Lampel says. “And we’re even starting to see caterpillars,which means they’re likely breeding here, where they never have in the past. So you get these kind of changes.”
County staff and scientists are hesitant to point to a single cause for the migration. But, the environmental report notes: “recent observations of animals that have previously never been seen here before may indicate that they are moving into our area due to an increase in annual average temperatures.” And, this is a global phenomenon. Numerous scientific studies over the past few years show a correlation between warmer summers, milder winters, and animals migrating to higher latitudes.