A study conducted by scientists from the Natural History Museum in London has investigated the link between mammal species and climate change. Using phylogenetic comparative analysis, the researchers reconstructed 50 million years of mammal evolution and analysed exposure to climate change. The study reveals that species that have previously undergone rapid climate change are now more vulnerable to climate change’s continuing and future impacts, highlighting the significance of considering past and future climate changes when assessing species’ vulnerability. The researchers recommend that species with narrow climatic niches and low climate tolerances receive preservation priority, and that conservation strategies encompass both past and future climate change.
New Study Finds Surprising Link Between Mammal Species and Climate Change
A new study published in the journal Science Advances reveals a surprising link between mammal species and climate change. The study, based on the most comprehensive analysis to date of the global distribution of about 6,000 mammal species and their climatic niches, shows that mammals that have undergone rapid climate changes in the past are more likely to be threatened by current and future climate change. The study also highlights the importance of considering both past and future climate change when assessing the vulnerability of species to extinction.
The study was conducted by an international team of scientists led by Natalie Cooper from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, and Alejandro Gonzalez-Voyer from the University of Montpellier, France. The team used a novel method to reconstruct the evolutionary history of mammals and their climatic niches over the past 50 million years, and to analyze the current and projected exposure of mammal species to climate change. The method, called phylogenetic comparative analysis, allowed the researchers to account for the shared ancestry and ecological similarities of mammal species.
The study found that mammal species that have experienced high rates of climate change in the past, especially during the last two million years of the Pleistocene Ice Ages, are more likely to have narrow climatic niches and low climate tolerances, and hence to be more vulnerable to current and future climate change. These species include many primates, bats, rodents, and insectivores that have adapted to stable and predictable climates in tropical and subtropical regions of Africa, Asia, and South America, and that are now facing rapid and unpredictable climatic changes due to human-induced global warming. The study also found that mammal lineages that have diversified into multiple species in response to past climate changes, such as the kangaroo rats of North America and the hyraxes of Africa, are more likely to have broader climatic niches and high climate tolerances, and hence to be more resilient to current and future climate change.
The study has several implications for conservation and management of mammal species that are threatened by climate change. First, it suggests that past climate change is an important predictor of current and future vulnerability, and that species with narrow climatic niches and low climate tolerances should receive priority for conservation actions. Second, it suggests that species that have diversified in response to past climate changes, and that have broader climatic niches and high climate tolerances, could serve as models for adaptive management and assisted colonization in areas that are expected to become suitable for them due to climate change. Third, it suggests that conservation strategies should consider both past and future climatic changes, and that long-term monitoring and modeling of climate and species interactions should be integrated into conservation planning.
Q: What is climate change?
A: Climate change refers to the long-term patterns of temperature, precipitation, and other climatic variables that are influenced by human activities, especially the emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. Climate change is causing many environmental, social, and economic impacts, such as sea level rise, extreme weather events, biodiversity loss, and food insecurity.
Q: Why are mammals important?
A: Mammals are a diverse group of animals that play many ecological, social, and cultural roles in ecosystems and human societies. Mammals are important pollinators, seed dispersers, predators, prey, and nutrient recyclers. Mammals also provide important resources for food, medicine, clothing, and recreation. Moreover, mammals are important indicators of ecosystem health and climate change, as they are sensitive to changes in habitat, food, water, and temperature.
Q: How was the study conducted?
A: The study used a combination of biological, ecological, and climatic data from multiple sources, including phylogenetic trees of mammal species based on DNA sequences, bioclimatic variables of temperature and precipitation from global climate models, and distributional records of mammal species from various databases. The study applied phylogenetic comparative analysis, a statistical method that accounts for the non-independence and shared history of species, to investigate the correlations between past and current climate change and species vulnerability. The study also used spatial analysis and projection models to assess current and future exposure of mammal species to climate change.
Q: What are the limitations of the study?
A: The study has several limitations that need to be considered. First, the study focused on terrestrial mammals and did not include marine mammals, which may have different responses to climate change. Second, the study relied on climatic data from global models, which may not capture the fine-scale variation and complexity of local climates. Third, the study assumed that species have fixed climatic niches and that they do not or cannot evolve in response to climate change, which may underestimate or overestimate their actual vulnerability. Fourth, the study did not consider other factors that may interact with or enhance the effects of climate change on mammal species, such as land use change, hunting, disease, and invasion by non-native species.