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Climate change disrupts communication among animals

A recent study led by the University of Hull highlights another grim consequence of climate change. The researchers have found that shifting climate conditions are disrupting chemical communication within marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems.

The researchers have demonstrated that climate change affects interactions among organisms across different types of ecosystems in similar ways. Disruptions in chemical communication can wreak havoc on a species and an ecosystem. They affect mating patterns, predator/prey systems, and the ability of animals to find food.

“Chemical communication is the ubiquitous language of life on earth – but this is being jeopardized by global change. There’s no talking with words for life underwater, so aquatic organisms’ talk’ in chemical signals. But this fine-tuned ‘language’ is in peril,” said study co-author Dr. Patrick Fink.

In the paper, the international team of researchers demonstrates that climate change has a similar impact on communication in terrestrial and aquatic environments, even though both environments have different stressors.  

“Although a growing number of studies suggest that climate change-associated stressors cause adverse effects on the communication between organisms, knowledge of the underlying mechanisms remains scarce,” said study lead author Dr. Christina C. Roggatz.

“We urgently need a systematic approach to be able to compare results and fully understand the potentially disruptive impact that climate change is having upon each step of this fundamental communication process. Understanding this means we are better equipped to predict and protect the future of our planet.”

According to study co-author Dr. Jörg Hardege, as climate change continues, we need more research to predict the consequences at the species interaction level. He noted that we need to research land, sea, and freshwater environments to fully understand how species will function with the coming changes. Without this research, we can only speculate. 

Dr. Roggatz concludes that this paper is a “wake-up call” because humans are a part of the ecosystem and rely on it for essential functions. This communication breakdown will have severe consequences for all life on earth, including humans. 

“The predominantly negative effects that climate change has upon the language of life within terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems could have a range of far-reaching implications for the future of our planet and human wellbeing, for example by impacting food security and fundamental ecosystem services that make our planet habitable.”

The study is published in the journal Global Change Biology.

By Erin Moody , Staff Writer

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