Climate change disrupts animal behavior

Climate change disrupts animal behavior

Everyone already knows of examples which prove that the environment changes the behavior of animals; this observation would in fact be global.

Today, everyone knows that human activity has a considerable impact on our environment, which is changing rapidly. What is more complicated is to assess the scope and the large-scale consequences of this change; we still do not know very well how the different animal species react to it. This is the subject of the work of a group from the University of Helsinki spotted by Futura. They were interested in the impact of climate change on the behavior of animals.

To do this, they carried out a meta-analysis, that is to say a research paper which reviews all the scientific literature on a given subject to derive additional information. Their analysis thus targeted five specific behavioral domains; they are interested in aggression, exploration, activity, daring and sociability on a panel of more than 100 species.

New environment, new behavior

They found a correlation “very clear”Between these two factors; this suggests that environmental changes do tend to modify animal behavior. And it is all the more marked for all exploratory behaviors. “We saw the biggest change in their propensity to explore their environment”, Explains Petri Niemalä, one of the researchers associated with this study.

And among these environmental changes, it is local climate changes that would have the most remarkable impact. An imbalance in precipitation or temperature can therefore disturb wildlife even in its instinctive behavior. For example, an increase in temperature or a drop in the water level tends to make fish more aggressive.

And there is even more worrying. Even the basic parameters, which cause these climatic changes, already significantly modify their behavior even before altering their environment. We can cite the concentration of carbon dioxide, the introduction of new species, or even urbanization. For example, researchers found that the latter favored exploration in birds, but with the opposite effect on lizards.

A form of short-term adaptation?

As this last example suggests, this vast meta-analysis does not allow very fine conclusions to be drawn. To learn more about the nature of these changes; it is therefore not yet clear what they consist of or what parameters they depend on. The main question therefore remains to find out how and why they affect animal behavior.

Without having more precise studies to learn, the researchers are already putting forward the beginnings of an explanation. “Behavior changes could act as a buffer to cushion the immediate negative effects of the change in environment”, They explain in their press release. “For example, they can be used to compensate for difficulties in reproducing, or excess mortality linked to new environmental conditions ”, he specifies.

This is both good and bad news. On the one hand, this proves that the animal kingdom is able to adapt to new conditions with surprising rapidity, far above the rate of evolution and natural selection. Information that encourages optimism in the current context.

On the other hand, this once again demonstrates the nauseating impact of our activity on wildlife. Above all, it shows how far we are still from understanding all of the long-term implications. So we still don’t know where the point of no return is. It is therefore more urgent than ever to analyze this dynamic in new work, and above all, to persist in our commitments in favor of the environment.

The text of the meta-analysis is available here.

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