(CN) – Wildlife searching for food and water in cities and suburbs will become more common as human expansion affects animal habitats and the relationship between plants and the climate, according to researchers who used NASA satellite imagery to map changes in migratory patterns.
Deer seek out plants and mountain lions seek out deer, but when plant life dries up animals must search outside their natural habitats for food, according to a team of researchers from Utah State University, the University of Maryland and the U.S. Geological Survey, who studied portions of the Great Basin in Nevada, the Colorado Plateau, the Mojave Desert in California and sections of New Mexico.
According to the study, humans can have an impact on rare species with specific, narrow habitat requirements, but what is less clear is how changes in the climate affect animals that migrate with the seasons and what this means for the food chain.
Researchers used satellite imagery along with seasonal plant and animal data to map out foraging paths. With the new technology, researchers were able to chart migratory patterns much more quickly than before.
They found rain and weather not only affect plant life, but also how far animals will go to forage for food – increasing the likelihood of clashes with humans on land we’ve developed.
Herbivores like the mule deer and carnivores like the mountain lion gather in greater numbers around areas of increased vegetation. But with more development by humans, the answers must change their patterns in search of food.
Lead author David Stoner with the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University said this type of information can be vital to rural economies and land managers who monitor rangeland, agricultural productivity, forest loss and regrowth, urban growth and the dynamics of wildlife habitat.
“State wildlife agencies are tasked with estimating animal abundance in remote and rugged habitats, which is difficult and expensive,” said Stoner. “Integration of satellite imagery can help establish baseline population estimates, monitor environmental conditions, and identify populations at risk to climate and land-use change.”
The study was published in the journal Global Change Biology.