Can animals sufficiently adapt to climate change?

Date: 19 August 2019

Introduction: A new study shows that in multiple animal species climate change causes changes in the life cycle, e.g. the timing of the egg hatching, or adaptations in their morphology, e.g. body size.

GCE scientists Frank Adriaensen and Erik Matthysen have contributed to a newly published article in the interdisciplinary science journal Nature Communications. The new study shows that in multiple animal species climate change causes changes in the life cycle, e.g. the timing of the egg hatching, or adaptations in their morphology, e.g. body size.

Earlier, this was shown in other studies also. However, the new research shows that the changes are ‘adaptive’ in some animal populations at least. This means the changes in the life cycle or the morphology help the animals to cope with the negative consequences of climate change, increasing population sustainability. While earlier studies showed changes in morphology and seasonality, they never showed that the changes gave the animals increasing survival chances.

The fact that is was proven that the response was adaptive, is an important breakthrough nonetheless. The scientists came to their conclusion based on 71 different scientific studies. Especially bird populations showed adapted seasonal behaviour.

Good news, one thinks… and this is certainly partially true. If the animal populations are able to respond to climate change on such short timescale, this increases their resistence against climate-related population extinction. However, it’s not all good news. The study also shows that the response is slow compared to the rate of climate change. This means that multiple bird populations are only delaying the threat of extinction.

Quintessential to reach the study’s conclusions, were the data gathered on great and blue tit populations over multiple decades. This shows the essentiality of studying natural populations over long time periods, to avoid taking conclusions only a short timescales.