Climate Change

Accelerating climate change threatens animals’ ability to adapt

Rising global temperatures will negatively impact numerous species vital to function of the natural world    

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 24 July 2019
A Eurasian magpie.Photo: Getty Images
A Eurasian magpie.Photo: Getty Images A Eurasian magpie.Photo: Getty Images

The rapid pace of global warming is threatening persistence in some species, even though they have innate biological traits like advancing their time of breeding, which help them respond to climate change, according to a study.

An international team of 64 researchers led by those from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Germany conducted a meta-analysis of more than 10,000 published scientific studies and focussed on birds “because complete data on other groups were scarce”.

They correlated changes in climate and phenological traits (changes in biological events such as hibernation, reproduction or migration) and morphological traits (changes in body size, body mass). The researchers then evaluated whether the changes were associated with higher survival or an increased number offspring.

Although some bird species seemed to respond to warming temperatures, for example by advancing their breeding time, others could not, showed the study published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

The species known to cope with climate change relatively well includes predominantly common and abundant species — the great tit (Parus major), the European pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca) or the common magpie (Pica pica).

“We demonstrate that in temperate regions, the rising temperatures are associated with the shift of the timing of biological events to earlier dates,” lead author Viktoriia Radchuk, from the Leibniz-IZW, said in a release.

But, some species trying to cope were found lagging at a constant rate and their pace did not guarantee persistence, the study showed.

“This study is among the first to explore the limits of what nature can cope with in the long term and the picture is not very positive,” added Christopher Hassall, co-author from the school of biology at University of Leeds.

Climate change will negatively imapct numerous species “vital to the continuing function of the natural world”, he added. 

The study did not analyse adaptability among rare or endangered species.

“We fear that the forecasts of population persistence for such species of conservation concern will be even more pessimistic,” said Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, head of the department of ecological dynamics at Leibniz-IZW.

Most land animals will not be able to evolve quickly enough to adapt to the dramatically warmer climate expected by 2100, according to a previous study, published in the journal Ecology Letters. Many species face extinction, as a result.

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