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Bird and other animal responses to extreme climatic events: challenges and directions

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May 16 2017 Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)  from ScienceDaily

…Extremes, outliers, cataclysms. As a field of biological research it’s still in its infancy, but interest in the impact of extreme weather and climate events on nature is growing rapidly. That’s partly because it is now increasingly clear that the impact of extreme events on animal behaviour, ecology and evolution could well be greater than that of the ‘normal’ periods in between. And partly because the frequency of such events is likely to increase, due to climate change….

…But how do we define extreme events in the first place? That’s problematic, explain NIOO researchers Marcel Visser and Martijn van de Pol. “For climatologists, weather has to be warmer, colder or more extreme in another way than it is 95% of the time. But that doesn’t necessarily make it extreme in terms of its impact on nature. There isn’t a 1 to 1 correspondence.”..

….The researchers were keen to find out if the birds would learn from experience and build their nests on higher ground — safer but further from their favourite sea food, “but they don’t.” This could result in natural selection based on nest elevation, with only breeders who build their nest on high ground likely to survive. But this could affect the future viability of the population.

Less cataclysmic events, too, can have major consequences. Two examples from Phil. Trans. B are oystercatchers that build their nests close to the coast despite rising sea levels, and fairy-wrens — Australian passerine birds — that are increasingly exposed to heatwaves and high temperatures, with sometimes fatal consequences…So how do they respond over time? Do they change their body size to mediate the impact of the extreme temperatures? Van de Pol: “Data over nearly 40 years shows that the two species, although quite similar, respond in completely different ways.”

Martijn van de Pol, Stéphanie Jenouvrier, Johannes H. C. Cornelissen, Marcel E. Visser. Behavioural, ecological and evolutionary responses to extreme climatic events: challenges and directions. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 372 (1723): 20160134 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0134

From Abstract: By summarizing the contributions to this theme issue we draw parallels between behavioural, ecological and evolutionary ECE studies, and suggest that an overarching challenge is that most empirical and theoretical evidence points towards responses being highly idiosyncratic, and thus predictability being low. Finally, we suggest a roadmap based on the proposition that an increased focus on the mechanisms behind the biological response function will be crucial for increased understanding and predictability of the impacts of ECE.

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