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Animals are 'Shapeshifting' as Climate Change Makes Earth Hotter. This is How

The biggest shifts in appendage size were displayed by some Australian parrot species. (Representational image: REUTERS)

The biggest shifts in appendage size were displayed by some Australian parrot species. (Representational image: REUTERS)

A new review of existing research claims that animals are, in a way, 'shapeshifting' to cope with the effects of climate change.

Among the host of impacts that climate change has had on Earth, a recent discovery has come to light that enunciates the gravity of the problem. A new review of existing research claims that animals are, in a way, “shapeshifting" to cope with the effects of climate change. To deal with the progressively higher temperatures on the planet, animals are adapting through changing physical features. Some warm-blooded animals are the ones going through these changes, CNN reported. Their beaks are getting larger, and their legs and ears are such that they allow better regulation of body temperatures. The report quoted a researcher from Deakin University in Australia as saying that birds have been particularly affected by this phenomenon. She is also one of the authors of the research which has been published in a journal called Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

The research appearing in the aforementioned journal says that the increase in appendage size of animals, which is then followed by changes in body proportions, can be termed “shape-shifting" and is one of the lesser known impacts of climate change. The phenomenon is more pronounced in endotherms. The research states that birds’ beaks and mammals’ ears are used to dissipate excess body heat, which is why these changes in appendages have been occurring. It cites “Allen’s rule", according to which animals in lower latitudes with warmer climates have larger appendages, which is in line with the findings. The research has been authored by Sara Ryding, Marcel Klaassen, Glenn J. Tattersall, Janet L. Gardner and Matthew R.E. Symonds, and was published on September 7.

According to the CNN report, the study looked at more than 30 animals, and the biggest shifts in appendage size were displayed by some Australian parrot species, whose beak size increased by 4% to 10% on average since 1871. However, the shapeshifting phenomenon does not necessarily augur hope. CNN quoted Ryding as saying, “It means animals are evolving, but it does not necessarily mean that they are coping with climate change. We can see that some species have increased in appendage size so far, but we don’t know if they will be able to keep up as the climate crisis worsens".

A study from earlier this year revealed that at least 25% of marine mammals could be at the risk of extinction as climate change, fisheries, bycatch, pollution and maritime development continue to adversely impact their lives. A University of Exeter team investigated the status of 126 species, including whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, manatees, dugongs, sea otters and polar bears, and concluded that at least 1/4th of them were threatened.

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first published:September 14, 2021, 13:51 IST