In a recent study published in eLife, an international team of researchers discuss how different mammals respond to the effects of climate change. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Southern Denmark, University of Oxford, and the University of Oslo, and determined that animals with long lifespans and/or procreate fewer offspring, such as bison and bears, possess greater resiliency than animals with shorter lifespans, such as lemmings and mice. But how will Earth’s ecosystems react to the ongoing effects of climate change, to include more frequent prolonged droughts and heavy rainfall, both of which are only getting worse?
"That is the big question and the background for our study," said Dr. John Jackson, lead author of the study and who is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford but was at the University of Southern Denmark when the study was conducted.
For the study, the researchers examined population fluctuation data from 157 species of mammals from all over the Earth and compared them to climate data correlating with when the animal data were collected, and each species had 10 or more years of data. The study gave the researchers new insights into how animal species’ populations survived during times of extreme weather. The study addressed questions pertaining to changes in population sizes and if they had greater or less offspring, as well.
"We can see a clear pattern: Animals that live a long time and have few offspring are less vulnerable when extreme weather hits than animals that live for a short time and have many offspring. Examples are llamas, long-lived bats and elephants versus mice, possums and rare marsupials such as the woylie," said Dr. Owen Jones, an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Southern Denmark, and a co-author on the study.
Examples of animals that were less affected by extreme weather included the African elephant, white rhinoceros, and grizzly bear, whereas examples of animals more affected by extreme weather included Azara’s grass mouse, Arctic fox, and common shrew. The study also determined that large animals with long lifespans are more suited to survive these extreme conditions compared to small animals with short lifespans. This also includes their survive, procreate, and raising their offspring, as well.
While small animals with short lifespans have greater changes in populations due to extreme weather, they might also experience greater populations booms once conditions improve, mostly due to the greater of offspring they produce.
"We expect climate change to bring more extreme weather in the future. Animals will need to cope with this extreme weather as they always have. So, our analysis helps predict how different animal species might respond to future climate change based on their general characteristics -- even if we have limited data on their populations," said Jones.
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!