The growth of plants and animals is being stunted due to changes in climate, scientists report.
Climate change is predicted to have a range of impacts around the world, from shifts in species’ ranges with changing temperature, to the melting of ice at the poles. This latest research has indicated that many species may also reduce in size with rising global temperatures.
In a review by scientists at the National University of Singapore, almost 45% of the species covered grew smaller over successive generations. The species studied ranged from microorganisms to top predators such as the polar bear.
For cold-blooded species, scientists believe that an increase in temperature requires an increase in metabolism, meaning they have less energy available to invest in growth and therefore attain smaller sizes. However, the study reports that the general mechanisms behind shrinkage are largely unknown, “We do not yet know the exact mechanisms involved, or why some organisms are getting smaller while others are unaffected.”
No time to adapt
A warming event that occurred around 55 million years ago is believed to have had a similar effect, reducing the size of invertebrates such as beetles, spiders and ants by up to 75%. However, due to the speed at which the climate is currently changing it is feared that animals and plants will not have time to adapt.
The authors of the study, Dr David Bickford and Jennifer Sheridan, said, “Because recent climate change may be faster than past historical changes in climate, many organisms may not respond or adapt quickly enough. This implies that species may go extinct because of climate change.”
Shrinkage is likely to affect entire ecosystems, with species shrinking at different rates and upsetting the natural balance of intricate food webs. It could also affect humans if important food sources, such as fish, undergo a reduction in size with climate change.
The authors of the study wrote, “The consequences of shrinkage are not yet fully understood, but could be far-reaching for biodiversity and humans alike.”
Read the full story in The Telegraph – Animals ‘shrinking’ due to climate change.
Read more on the Sky News website – Polar Bears Shrink Due To Climate Change.
Read this report, and other climate change findings, in the Nature Climate Change journal.
Learn more about climate change and the species it affects on ARKive.
Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author