AboutZoos, Since 2008


Mam­mals and birds could have best shot at sur­viv­ing cli­mate change

pub­lished 24 Feb­ru­ary 2018 | mod­i­fied 24 Feb­ru­ary 2018

New research that analysed more than 270 mil­lion years of data on ani­mals shows that mam­mals and birds — both warm-​blooded ani­mals — may have a bet­ter chance of evolv­ing and adapt­ing to the Earth’s rapidly chang­ing cli­mate than their cold-​blooded peers, rep­tiles and amphibians.

PlatypusPlaty­pus (Ornithorhynchus anat­i­nus).
John Gould print image of Duck­billed Platy­pus 18451863. Image in the pub­lic domain.

By com­bin­ing data from the cur­rent dis­tri­b­u­tion of ani­mals, fos­sil records and phy­lo­ge­netic infor­ma­tion for 11,465 species, the researchers were able to recon­struct where ani­mals have lived over the past 270 mil­lion years and what tem­per­a­tures they needed to sur­vive in these regions. The study is pub­lished online on 29 Jan­u­ary in the jour­nal Nature Ecol­ogy.

The planet’s cli­mate has changed sig­nif­i­cantly through­out his­tory and the researchers found that these changes have shaped where ani­mals live. For exam­ple, the planet was fairly warm and trop­i­cal until 40 mil­lion years ago, mak­ing it an ideal place for many species to live. As the planet cooled, birds and mam­mals were able to adapt to the colder tem­per­a­tures so they were able to move into habi­tats in more north­ern and south­ern regions.

We see that mam­mals and birds are bet­ter able to stretch out and extend their habi­tats, mean­ing they adapt and shift much easier.

Jonathan Rol­land, lead author, Depart­ment of Com­pu­ta­tional Biol­ogy, Bio­phore, Uni­ver­sity of Lau­sanne, Switzer­land; Swiss Insti­tute of Bioin­for­mat­ics, Quartier Sorge, Lau­sanne, Switzer­land; Depart­ment of Zool­ogy, Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia, Van­cou­ver, Canada.

It’s pos­si­ble that they will even­tu­ally adapt and could move into these regions but it takes longer for them to change. This could have a deep impact on extinc­tion rates and what our world looks like in the future,” added Rolland.

Rol­land explained that ani­mals that can reg­u­late their body tem­per­a­tures, known as endotherms, might be bet­ter able to sur­vive in these places because they can keep their embryos warm, take care of their off­spring and they can migrate or hibernate.

These strate­gies help them adapt to cold weather but we rarely see them in the ectotherms or cold-​blooded ani­mals,” he said.

Rol­land and col­leagues argue that study­ing the past evo­lu­tion and adap­ta­tions of species might pro­vide impor­tant clues to under­stand how cur­rent, rapid changes in tem­per­a­ture impact bio­di­ver­sity on the planet.

(Source: Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia news release, 29.01.2018)

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