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Many Animals Can’t Adapt Fast Enough To Climate Change

A new paper in Nature Communications, coauthored by more than 60 researchers, sifted through 10,000 previous studies and found that the climatic chaos we’ve sowed may just be too intense for many animals to survive. From a report: Some species seem to be adapting, yes, but they aren’t doing so fast enough. That spells, in a word, doom. To determine how a species is adjusting to a climate gone mad, you typically look at two things: morphology and phenology. Morphology refers to physiological changes, like the aforementioned shrinking effect; phenology has to do with the timing of life events such as breeding and migration. The bulk of the existing research concerns phenology. The species in the new study skew avian, in large part because birds are relatively easy to observe. Researchers can set up nesting boxes, for instance, which allow them to log when adults lay eggs, when chicks hatch, how big the chicks are, and so on. And they can map how this is all changing as the climate warms.

By looking at these kinds of studies together, the authors of the Nature Communications paper found that the 17 bird species they examined seem to be shifting their phenology. “Birds in the Northern Hemisphere do show adaptive responses on average, though these adaptive responses are not sufficient in order for populations to persist in the long term,” says lead author Viktoriia Radchuk of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.


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