Survival of the fittest: Which animals are best suited to survive climate change?

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The subject of a recent study which animals will fare the best under climate change.

Extreme weather events such as prolonged droughts and torrential downpours are occurring more frequently as the average global temperature rises, and they will only get worse in the coming decades.

What will happen to the planet’s ecosystems?

According to biologist John Jackson, “This is the big question and the context of our study.”

Jackson has just published a new study in the journal eLife with the help of his biologists Christie Le Coeur from the University of Oslo and Owen Jones from the University of Southern Denmark.

Who can adapt?

(Photo: David Heiling/Unsplash)

John Jackson is currently a student at Oxford University, but was enrolled at the University of Southern Denmark while the study was being conducted. Owen Jones is Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Southern Denmark.

The researchers combined information on population changes of 157 mammal species around the world with weather and climate data from when the animal data was obtained. For each species, they collected data for at least ten years.

They now have a better understanding of how populations of various animal species behaved during periods of extreme weather conditions: Has their number increased or decreased? How did the number of their children change?

We can observe a trend: animals with a long lifespan and few offspring are less sensitive to bad weather than those with a short lifespan and many offspring. Unlike mice, possums and rare marsupials like the woylie, examples include llamas, long-lived bats and elephants, Owen Jones said.

Also Read: Due to Climate Change, This ‘Walking’ Shark Species is Evolving to Adapt to Harsher Conditions

Large Surviving Animals

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The study found that animals less affected by the weather included the African elephant, Siberian tiger, chimpanzee, great horseshoe bat, llama, vicuna, white rhinoceros, grizzly bear, American bison, klipspringer and Schreibers bat.

The ability of large, long-lived animals to survive, reproduce, and raise their young is not as significantly affected by environmental factors such as prolonged drought as is the case with small, short-lived animals. When circumstances become difficult, they may, for example, concentrate their efforts on one child or perhaps wait for better times.

On the other hand, small, short-lived rodents experience more drastic short-term population changes. Large parts of their food source, such as insects, flowers, and fruits, may disappear more quickly in prolonged drought; for example, because they have a limited amount of fat reserves, they can be starved to death.

Since these small mammals can generate more young than large mammals, their populations may increase to take advantage of favorable conditions.

“These small mammals react quickly to extreme weather conditions in both directions. According to John Jackson, the probability of extinction should not be linked to their sensitivity to extreme weather conditions.

More threats

WEATHER DROUGHT IN CHINA

(Photo: Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)


He also recalls that to determine the vulnerability of an animal species to extinction, its capacity to tolerate climate change cannot be taken into account alone:

“Many animal species are threatened by habitat destruction, poaching, pollution and invasive species – in many cases far more than climate change,” he added.

Climate change can cause habitat quality to change, forcing species to move as their current habitats become uninhabitable. These changes are based on a species’ life strategy and can significantly alter the functioning of an ecosystem.

Related article: Are cities meant to survive the climate crisis designed for comfort or performance?

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