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Some species are better equipped to adapt to a changing climate

Nature has the power to adapt — it’s what has kept certain species growing and thriving for millennia, while others die out. Now, a new study from the University of Southampton has found that the threat of range losses for some species due to climate change may be overstated, as certain animals will be able to adapt to rising temperatures and aridity.

The researchers’ findings are published in the journal PNAS and detail a new approach to more accurately determine species vulnerability. This approach may aid in future conservation efforts by allowing scientists to focus on species that are truly at risk. The current methods for determining vulnerability do not include the potential for some species to adapt genetically to a changing environment.

Led by Dr. Orly Razgour, a lecturer in ecology at the University of Southampton, the international research team assessed the genomic data of two species of bats native to the Mediterranean, which is an area that will be heavily affected by rising global temperatures.

The most commonly used approach for forecasting the bats’ future suggests that the range of suitable habitats for them would diminish rapidly due to climate change,” explains Dr. Razgour. “However, this assumes all bats within the same species cope with changing temperatures and drier climates in the same way. We developed a new approach that takes into account the ability of bats within the same species to adapt to different climatic conditions.”

The researchers studied the DNA of over 300 bats, identifying individuals that were adapted to thrive in hot and dry conditions as well as those that were adapted to colder and wetter environments. This information was then used to model changes in climatic suitability and the distribution of each group under future climate change.

After mapping the areas that were most populated by each group of adapted bats, the research team studied the landscapes in between each area to determine whether they would allow the bats adapted to hot and dry conditions to move into areas already taken up by the cold-wet adapted bats.

Through their analysis, the researchers determined that there was suitable forest cover across most landscapes — an integral part of the landscape in order for bats to thrive. With this landscape connectivity, bats adapted to hot-dry conditions would likely be able to reach cold-wet adapted populations and breed with them. This would increase the ability of the population to survive as conditions become warmer and drier.

We believe that if this model is used when assessing the vulnerability of any species to climate change we could reduce erroneous predictions and misplaced conservation efforts,” says Razgour. “Any conservation strategy should consider how individual animals can adapt locally and should focus not only on areas with threatened populations but also on making movement between populations easier. This is why it is important to look at the combined effect of climate change and habitat loss.”

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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Image Credit: Daniel Fernandez Alonso

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