Birds live. Frogs die. Researchers predict which animals are more likely to survive climate change
As our planet continues to warm up quicker than a jacket potato, researchers have identified another detrimental consequence of climate change. Not only is our planet’s temperature in complete disarray, but some species may have a harder time than others adapting to a changing climate, potentially altering the balance of Earth’s biodiversity forever.
Publishing their findings in Nature Ecology, the researchers from the University of British Columbia looked at data from the current distribution of animals, as well as fossil records and phylogenetic information for 11,465 different species, and were able to reconstruct where exactly each animal species has lived and in what temperatures over the past 270 million years.
They found that endothermic animals (mammals and birds) were able to spread themselves across the planet, being able to migrate to colder environments. This makes them subsequently much more likely to survive the effects of climate change than their cold-blooded ectothermic peers (reptiles and amphibians).
Their reasoning is due to three distinct qualities that endothermic mammals and birds possess over ectotherms.
Firstly, birds and mammals have wider climatic boundaries, being able to survive in a wider array of different environments. Secondly, endotherms have a higher dispersal capacity, meaning they can travel through unsuitable patches of habitat, and from one season to another. Finally, the researchers identified that endotherms are able to both warm their developing embryos and feed their offspring. Ectotherms, on the other hand, (potentially due to their physiology) have not been able to adapt to climates which they aren’t used to. While mammals and birds will be able to self-regulate their temperatures, frogs and reptiles will not. But how do humans fare?
“Homo sapiens is only one endothermic species and a very young species (one million years), so the conclusion of the general pattern might not apply to this particular species,” Jonathan Rolland, lead researcher of the study, told Alphr. “One potential application of our result to humans, is probably that the acquisition of endothermy in evolution might help all mammals (and also likely all ancestral lineages leading to the hominids) to better survive past climate change.”
What can the average homo sapien, if anything, learn from birds and mammals so we can survive the environmental mess we got ourselves into? While Rolland admits he’s not an expert in this area, he thinks, ironically, that the answer might be biodiversity.
“I do think that preserving biodiversity will help humans, because we rely on efficient ecosystems functioning for our resources and this might only work when a substantial proportion of biodiversity is conserved,” Rolland explained. “Conserving a number of species will help to conserve some stability in the food supply chain and ultimately permit [us] to maintain a reasonable human population size through time.”
It’s a fitting plan, although already things don’t look so good on the biodiversity front. According to Harvard’s Centre for Health and the Global Environment, climate change is expected to threaten 25% of species on land and in water with extinction, as they fail to adapt to the world’s changing temperatures.