Last updated February 6, 2018 at 11:05 am
Some species can adapt faster to changing environmental conditions.
Researchers have examined the distribution of 11,465 species over the last 270 million years to understand how animals adapt to changing climatic conditions.
Endotherms are animals that use metabolic energy to keep themselves warm, like mammals and birds. They are able to thrive in a wider range of climatic conditions than ectotherms like lizards or amphibians. Because the environmental temperature influences the activity of cold-blooded animals, scientists have suspected it is one of the reasons that they’re much less tolerant of changing climates.
“We see that mammals and birds are better able to stretch out and extend their habitats, meaning they adapt and shift much easier,” said Jonathan Rolland, of the University of British Columbia and lead author of the study published in Nature Ecology. “This could have a deep impact on extinction rates and what our world looks like in the future.”
Birds and mammals are able to adapt to a wider range of temperatures by being more mobile – they’re able to more easily travel to new areas and find suitable habitat and climate conditions.
“It might explain why we see so few reptiles and amphibians in the Antarctic or even temperate habitats,” said Rolland. “It’s possible that they will eventually adapt and could move into these regions but it takes longer for them to change.”
Warm blooded animals also have the advantage in raising young. Keeping developing embryos warm, and feeding and taking care of their offspring, also help them adapt to colder weather. In the face of oncoming weather birds can migrate thousands of kilometres. Mammals can 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.