Researchers from the University of British Columbia are reporting that warm-blooded animals have a better chance of adapting to climate change than cold-blooded animals. The research was based on over 270 million years of data on animals such as birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
“We see that mammals and birds are better able to stretch out and extend their habitats, meaning they adapt and shift much easier,” said lead author Jonathan Rolland. “This could have a deep impact on extinction rates and what our world looks like in the future.”
The researchers compared data from the current distribution of animals with fossil records and phylogenetic information for 11,465 species. The team reconstructed where animals have lived over the past 270 million years and analyzed what temperatures they needed to survive in these regions.
The study revealed that the Earth’s changing climate throughout history significantly impacted where animals resided. For example, warm and tropical conditions 40 million years ago made the planet suitable for many species to thrive.
Birds and mammals were able to adapt during the subsequent cooling phase of the planet, which enabled them to move into extreme northern and southern regions.
“It might explain why we see so few reptiles and amphibians in the Antarctic or even temperate habitats,” said Rolland. “It’s possible that they will eventually adapt and could move into these regions but it takes longer for them to change.”
According to Rolland, animals that can regulate their body temperatures might be better able to survive in these places because they can keep their embryos warm and take care of their offspring.
“These strategies help them adapt to cold weather but we rarely see them in the ectotherms or cold-blooded animals,” said Rolland.
The research team believes that understanding the past evolution and adaptations of species can provide important insight into how future climate change may impact Earth’s biodiversity.
The study is published in Nature Ecology.