How To Predict Extinction In Our Extreme New Normal

 

How To Predict Extinction In Our Extreme New Normal

The model can help predict what will happen to animal or plant species when there are more heat waves, when heatwaves last longer, or when typical heat waves affect larger areas. (Credit: Zack/Flickr)

Faced with unprecedented change, animals and plants are scrambling to keep up—with mixed results. A new model helps predict what could drive species to extinction.

“It is difficult to predict how organisms will respond to changes in extreme events because these events tend to be, by definition, quite rare,” says Carlos Botero, assistant professor of biology at Washington University in St. Louis.

“But we can have a pretty good idea of how any given species may respond to current changes in this aspect of climate—if we pay attention to its natural history, and have some idea of the climatic regime it has experienced in the past.”

The ‘new normal’

Hurricane Dorian is the latest example of a frightening trend. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent, more severe, and more widespread as a consequence of climate change. The new provides important insights into how different species may fare under this new normal.

For the study in Ecology and Evolution, Botero worked with his former student Thomas Haaland, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Zurich, to develop an evolutionary model of how populations respond to rare environmental extremes. (Think: 500-year floods.) These rare events can be tricky for evolution because it is difficult to adapt to hazards that are almost never encountered.

Through computer simulations, Haaland and Botero found that certain traits and experiences emerged as key indicators of vulnerability.

Specifically, they found:

  • Species that breed a single time in their lifetime tend to evolve conservative behaviors or morphologies, as if they were expecting to experience an environmental extreme every time.
  • In contrast, species in which a single individual can reproduce multiple times and in different contexts (say, a bird that nests several times in a season and in different trees), evolution favors behaving as if environmental extremes simply never happen.

The key insight of this new model is that species belonging to the former, “conservative” category can easily adapt to more frequent or widespread extremes but have trouble adjusting when those extremes become more intense. The opposite is true of species in the latter, “care-free” category.

Haaland and Botero also found that factors speeding up trait evolution are generally likely to hinder—rather than favor—adaptation to rare selection events. Part of the reason: High mutation rates tend to facilitate the process of adaptation to normal conditions during the long intervals in between environmental extremes.

“Our results challenge the idea that species that have been historically exposed to more variable environments are better suited to cope with climate change,” Botero says.

“We see that simple changes in the pattern and intensity of environmental extremes could be lethal even for populations that have experienced similar events in the past. This model simply helps us better understand when and where we may have a problem.”

Predict extinction from extremes

The simple framework that Haaland and Botero describe can be applied to any kind of environmental extreme including flooding, wildfires, heatwaves, droughts, cold spells, tornadoes, and hurricanes—any and all of which might be considered part of the “new normal” under climate change.

Take extreme heat as an example. The model can be used to predict what will happen to animal or plant species when there are more heat waves, when heatwaves last longer, or when typical heat waves affect larger areas.

“Regions in which heat waves used to be rare and patchy are likely to host primarily species that do not exhibit conspicuous adaptations to extreme heat,” Botero says. “Our model indicates that the biggest threats of extinction in these particular locations will therefore be more frequent or widespread heat waves, and that the species of highest concern in these places will be endemics and species with small geographic distribution.

“Conversely, areas in which heat waves were historically common and widespread can be expected to host species that already exhibit adaptations for extreme heat,” Botero adds. “In this case, our model suggests that the typical inhabitants of these places are likely to be more vulnerable to hotter temperatures than to longer or more widespread heat waves.”

Anoles, for example

The new model gives wildlife managers and conservation organizations insight into the potential vulnerabilities of different species based on relatively simple assessments of their natural histories and historical environments.

For example, a 2018 study by Colin Donihue, visiting postdoctoral fellow at Washington University, found that Anolis lizards in the Caribbean tend to evolve larger toepads and shorter limb lengths in response to hurricanes because these traits help them cling better to branches during strong winds.

The new model suggests that while these lizards are unlikely to be affected by more frequent hurricanes, their populations may nevertheless face a significant threat of extinction if future hurricanes become more intense. A possible solution to this problem might be to provide wind refuges across the island to allow parts of the population escape winds of very high intensity, Botero suggests.

“While this simple conservation action is unlikely to completely shift the balance from a ‘conservative’ to a ‘care-free’ evolutionary response to extreme events, it may nevertheless reduce the strongest vulnerability of these ‘conservative’ lizard populations,” Botero says. “It might just buy them enough time to accumulate sufficient evolutionary changes in their toes and limbs to meet the new demands of their altered habitat.”

Source: Washington University in St. Louis

Related Books

Life After Carbon: The Next Global Transformation of Cities

by Peter Plastrik , John Cleveland
1610918495The future of our cities is not what it used to be. The modern-city model that took hold globally in the twentieth century has outlived its usefulness. It cannot solve the problems it helped to create—especially global warming. Fortunately, a new model for urban development is emerging in cities to aggressively tackle the realities of climate change. It transforms the way cities design and use physical space, generate economic wealth, consume and dispose of resources, exploit and sustain the natural ecosystems, and prepare for the future. Available On Amazon

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History

by Elizabeth Kolbert
1250062187Over the last half-billion years, there have been Five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us. In prose that is at once frank, entertaining, and deeply informed, New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert tells us why and how human beings have altered life on the planet in a way no species has before. Interweaving research in half a dozen disciplines, descriptions of the fascinating species that have already been lost, and the history of extinction as a concept, Kolbert provides a moving and comprehensive account of the disappearances occurring before our very eyes. She shows that the sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy, compelling us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human. Available On Amazon

Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats

by Gwynne Dyer
1851687181Waves of climate refugees. Dozens of failed states. All-out war. From one of the world’s great geopolitical analysts comes a terrifying glimpse of the strategic realities of the near future, when climate change drives the world’s powers towards the cut-throat politics of survival. Prescient and unflinching, Climate Wars will be one of the most important books of the coming years. Read it and find out what we’re heading for. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

 
 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…

LATEST ARTICLES

Heatwaves Too Hot And Wet For Human Life Are Here
Heatwaves Too Hot And Wet For Human Life Are Here Now
by Tim Radford
Lethal heatwaves carrying air turned too hot and wet to survive are a threat which has arrived, thanks to climate…
How Dangerous Is Low-level Radiation To Children?
How Dangerous Is Low-level Radiation To Children?
by Paul Brown
A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never…
What We Do Now Could Change Earth's Trajectory
What We Do Now Could Change Earth's Trajectory
by Pep Canadell, et al
The numbers of people cycling and walking in public spaces during COVID-19 has skyrocketed.
Marine Heatwaves Spell Trouble For Tropical Reef Fish — Even Before Corals Die
Marine Heatwaves Spell Trouble For Tropical Reef Fish — Even Before Corals Die
by Jennifer M.T. Magel and Julia K. Baum
Despite the many challenges facing the world’s oceans today, coral reefs remain strongholds of marine biodiversity.
Warnings of Worse-Than-Usual Hurricane Season Point to Trouble Ahead
Warnings of Worse-Than-Usual Hurricane Season Point to Trouble Ahead
by Eoin Higgins
Hurricane season is about to start and its risks will only grow and potentially compound any impacts from the pandemic.
Australia, It's Time To Talk About Our Water Emergency
Australia, It's Time To Talk About Our Water Emergency
by Quentin Grafton et al
There’s another climate change influence we must also face up to: increasingly scarce water on our continent.
Fossil Fuels Are Heading Down, But Not Yet Out
Fossil Fuels Are Heading Down, But Not Yet Out
by Kieran Cooke
Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.
Human Action Will Decide How Much Sea Levels Rise
Human Action Will Decide How Much Sea Levels Rise
by Tim Radford
Sea levels will go on rising, because of human action. By how much, though, depends on what humans do next.