This perpetual struggle between climate change and nature has been pessimistic. You are probably aware of the great challenges and harsh realities our planet is experiencing as a result of our actions. But even though we have failed our planet, we must not lose hope. Animals and plants are evolving. If they won’t give up the fight you shouldn’t too! Here are some of species who are fighting against global warming:
Acropora hyacinthus corals
Corals have been a good target of climate change because of their difficulty to adapt in an environment where they’d never been accustomed to (ex: warmer waters, overfishing, pollution, acidification in ocean waters, etc). After disappointing news estimating that 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have died in the span of 30 years (4), it’s easy to give all hope in salvation.
Marine ecologist Stephen Palumbi tested the heat resistance of corals that lived in unusually warm temperatures. Results showed that only 20 percent of the individual coral animals spit out their algae. When a coral spits out its algae it essentially gets rid of its one and only means of alimentation. Without them corals are unable to photosinze, ultimately dying. Palumbi ran a different test where he switched corals from the cold habitats to much warmer pools. One year later the transplanted corals survived merely losing 32.5 percent of algaes. This news is a ray of sunshine in a cloudy storm. Acropora hyacinthus corals are one of the many species of corals that exist in the world, not all corals follow the same narrative as hyacinthus corals but it sure is a relief to know that corals are trying their best to survive.
Cepaea nemoralis snails
Cepaea snails are adapting light colored shells. Light colored snails are less susceptible to suffer from heat stroke than snails with darker shells. With lighter colored shells, snails have a lower body temperature. Thus, through the years light colored snails are becoming more and more prevalent. Even in shady areas, where you would expect to see more dark colored snails, light colored snails rein the place.
Pink Salmons need to migrate from ocean water to freshwater. The migration is crucial for the species’ survival and it’s even proven that this trait or need to migrate is in their genes. Scientists analyzed genetic modification over 32 years. Pleasantly enough, they were able to find a genetic marker for late migration. New populations are migrating two weeks earlier than recorded 40 years ago. Only 10 percent is falling behind the early migration trend. Those who do migrate earlier are better fit to survive the increasing temperatures.
Winters across Europe are milder than before. Tawny Owls populations, especially those with pale colored feathers, are affected by the reduction of snow. Owls that acquired the less dominant trait of snowy colored feathers have more trouble blending with the environment and hiding from predators. The dominant trait has taken an increase in Finland. Nationwide there has been an increase of brown owls over the last 48 years. Now that snow is melting faster than before, these adaptations can give tawny owls more chances of survival.
HARSH REALITY AND TAKING ACTION
Reading about how animals (and plants as well) are evolving can be uplifting. However we can’t be too optimistic about these adaptations. Certainly there are species whose new formed traits are helping them survive, but that’s the situation for only some species. Birds are increasingly changing beak size to better regulate heat temperatures around their body. Some species are unable to do the same because of specific diets that require them to have small beaks. Not all animals will be able to survive and even those who are evolving are likely to face the same fate. Evolving takes longer than what these species can afford. Animals may be adapting but not fast enough.
The animals that are adapting new phenological traits (traits that haven’t been influenced by modifying genes. ex: nesting earlier, migrating earlier, hunting in different locations) have shown to be thriving sufficiently. These traits are not necessarily influenced by global warming but could possibly be by other external factors. But in a case where they were, scientists believe that these adaptations are not sustainable for the “safe” environment some of these species are migrating to will eventually, due to global warming, become unsuitable. Not everything is black and white, there’s no actual way that scientists can record how truly beneficial a trait is. For that it would take decades. The evidence we have today, animals are evolving but these adaptations are likely not enough.
The adaptations are indeed imperfect. It would be great if these adaptations could occur without the need of natural selection, but that is the cost of evolving. Knowing which species are unable to adapt can help us identify those species that are vulnerable and in need of conservation priorities. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changes reported that we have every little time for catastrophic events to ensue, which is why we must take action. Though lacking, from corals to snails, animals are fighting for their lives. Organizations like The Rainforest Foundation US, Carbon180, and Polar Bears International, are also fighting against global warming and maintaining the preciousness that makes our planet earth thrive. Take action whether small or big, every action counts. The only way to protect our animals is to reduce greenhouse gases and prevent more global warming from impacting our planet.
Interested in donating to an organization? These sites have a wide variety of nonprofit organizations that are actively involved:
Climate Store: https://climatestore.com/take-action/get-involved/non-profit-organizations-working-on-climate-change
Giving Green: https://www.givinggreen.earth/recommendations
Marries, Emma. (2014). ‘How a Few Species Are Hacking Climate Change.’ National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/140506-climate-change-adaptation-evolution-coral-science-butterflies
(2021). ‘New research reveals animals are changing their body shapes to cope with climate change.’ The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/new-research-reveals-animals-are-changing-their-body-shapes-to-cope-with-climate-change-166267
Radchuk, V., Reed, T., Teplitsky, C. et al. (2019). ‘Adaptive responses of animals to climate change are most likely insufficient.’ Nature communications. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-10924-4
‘Why coral reefs need our help.’Secore International. https://www.secore.org/site/corals/detail/why-coral-reefs-need-our-help.23.html