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.
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.
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)