Snoozing through Climate Change

Hitting the snooze button might be a good idea for mammals trying to cope with global warming. Research published this month in The American Naturalist, reveals mammals that hibernate or burrow have a better chance of surviving extinction because of climate change.

Dr. Lee Hsiang Liow of the University of Oslo and his colleagues studied fossil records and found that “sleep-or-hide” mammals lasted longer than other animals as a species. Liow then compared current species trends with animals listed on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red list — one detailing the risk status of the world’s biodiversity. What Liow found was that, just like in the fossil record, modern mammals that hibernate or burrow tend to weather climate change better than non-burrowers.

The benefit comes at a price, however, while the critters might be better at coping with climate change, they could be slow to evolve themselves. This leaves “sleep-or-hide” mammals in the proverbial dust as other animals adapt more quickly.

“Sleep-or-hide species survive longer, but in a changing world they run the risk of eventually becoming seriously obsolete,” said Mikael Fortelius of the University of Helsinki, in a press release, “in a way it’s the classic choice between security and progress.”

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One response to “Snoozing through Climate Change

  • proopnarine

    Very interesting idea. I don’t think that it’s clear that even non-hibernating mammals will be capable of sustaining rates of adaptation sufficient to cope with the expected rate of climate change. Even at the best resolutions of the mammal fossil record, and Fortelius works in that range, we are still dealing with timescales on the order of millenia. The current rate of change might not be unprecedented, but the geological “precedents” never ended well.

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