Animals can adapt, but not enough to stay ahead of climate change

On Friday, NASA issued a news release stating that 2014 was the warmest year on record. Two groups of scientists at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) independently arrived at this conclusion after analyzing surface temperature measurements from over 6,300 sites all over the world collected over the past year. Since 1880, the average surface temperature on Earth has risen by roughly 0.8°C or 1.4°F. As temperatures continue to climb, ecosystems and animals are forced to adapt or risk becoming endangered.

This map shows how temperatures have changed between 1950 and 2014 in different parts of the world. Orange indicates a rise in temperature. Blue indicates a drop in temperature. (Source)
This map shows how temperatures have changed between 1950 and 2014 in different parts of the world. Orange indicates a rise in temperature. Blue indicates a drop in temperature. (Source)

Cold-blooded animals, or ectotherms, rely on environmental heat sources to help their bodies reach an optimal temperature. Because their bodily functions are directly linked to and influenced by external temperatures, rises and fluctuations in temperature pose a serious challenge to ectotherms.

To better predict how resilient cold-blooded animals are to climate change, Australian researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of Queensland combed through over 4,000 papers looking for data on how ectotherms change their physiology in response to changes in external temperature. They used data from 205 studies published between 1968 and 2012 to generate the largest database on physiological adaptability in cold-blooded animals. Continue reading