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Global warming is a big challenge for warm-blooded animals, which must maintain a constant internal body temperature. As anyone who’s experienced heatstroke can tell you, our bodies become severely stressed when we overheat.
Animals are dealing with global warming in various ways. Some move to cooler areas, such as closer to the poles or to higher ground. Some change the timing of key life events such as breeding and migration, so they take place at cooler times. And others evolve to change their body size to cool down more quickly.
Our new research examined another way animal species cope with climate change: by changing the size of their ears, tails, beaks and other appendages. We reviewed the published literature and found examples of animals increasing appendage size in parallel with climate change and associated temperature increases.
In doing so, we identified multiple examples of animals that are most likely “shape-shifters”—including species in Australia. The pattern is widespread, and suggests climate warming may result in fundamental changes to animal form.
Adhering to Allen’s rule
It’s well known that animals use their appendages to regulate their internal temperature. African elephants, for example, pump warm blood to their large ears, which they then flap to disperse heat. The beaks of birds perform a similar function—blood flow can be diverted to the bill when the bird is hot. This heat-dispersing function is depicted in the thermal image of a king parrot below, which shows the beak is warmer than the rest of the body.
All this means there are advantages to bigger appendages in warmer environments. In fact, as far back as the 1870s, American zoologist Joel Allen noted in colder climates, warm-blooded animals—also known as endotherms—tended to have smaller appendages while those in warmer climates tend to have larger ones.
Biological patterns such as Allen’s rule can also help make predictions about how animals will evolve as the climate warms. Our research set out to find examples of animal shape-shifting over the past century, consistent with climatic warming and Allen’s rule.
Which animals are changing?
We found most documented examples of shape-shifting involve birds—specifically, increases in beak size.
This includes several species of Australian parrots. Studies show the beak size of gang-gang cockatoos and red-rumped parrots has increased by between 4% and 10% since since 1871.
Mammal appendages are also increasing in size. For example, in the masked shrew, tail and leg length have increased significantly since 1950. And in the great roundleaf bat, wing size increased by 1.64% over the same period.
The variety of examples indicates shape-shifting is happening in different types of appendages and in a variety of animals, in many parts of the world. But more studies are needed to determine which kinds of animals are most affected.
Other uses of appendages
Of course, animal appendages have uses far beyond regulating body temperature. This means scientists have sometimes focused on other reasons that might explain changes in animal body shape.
For example, studies have shown the average beak size of the Galapagos medium ground finch has changed over time in response to seed size, which is in turn influenced by rainfall. Our research examined previously collected data to determine if temperature also influenced changes in beak size of these finches.
These data do demonstrate rainfall (and, by extension, seed size) determines beak size. After drier summers, survival of small-beaked birds was reduced.
But we found clear evidence that birds with smaller beaks are also less likely to survive hotter summers. This effect on survival was stronger than that observed with rainfall. This tells us the role of temperature may be as important as other uses of appendages, such as feeding, in driving changes in appendage size.
Our research also suggests we can make some predictions about which species are most likely to change appendage size in response to increasing temperatures—namely, those that adhere to Allen’s rule.
These include (with some caveats) starlings, song sparrows, and a host of seabirds and small mammals, such as South American gracile opossums.
Why does shape-shifting matter?
Our research contributes to scientific understanding of how wildlife will respond to climate change. Apart from improving our capacity to predict the impacts of climate change, this will enable us to identify which species are most vulnerable and require conservation priority.
Last month’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed we have very little time to avert catastrophic global warming.
While our research shows some animals are adapting to climate change, many will not. For example, some birds may have to maintain a particular diet which means they cannot change their beak shape. Other animals may simply not be able to evolve in time.
So while predicting how wildlife will respond to climate change is important, the best way to protect species into the future is to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent as much global warming as possible.
New research reveals animals are changing their body shapes to cope with climate change (2021, September 8)
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Fossilized footprints discovered in New Mexico indicate that early humans were walking across North America around 23,000 years ago, researchers reported Thursday.
The first footprints were found in a dry lake bed in White Sands National Park in 2009. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey recently analyzed seeds stuck in the footprints to determine their approximate age, ranging from around 22,800 and 21,130 years ago.
The findings may shed light on a mystery that has long intrigued scientists: When did people first arrive in the Americas, after dispersing from Africa and Asia?
Most scientists believe ancient migration came by way of a now-submerged land bridge that connected Asia to Alaska. Based on various evidence — including stone tools, fossil bones and genetic analysis — other researchers have offered a range of possible dates for human arrival in the Americas, from 13,000 to 26,000 years ago or more.
The current study provides a more solid baseline for when humans definitely were in North America, although they could have arrived even earlier, the authors say. Fossil footprints are more indisputable and direct evidence than “cultural artifacts, modified bones, or other more conventional fossils,” they wrote in the journal Science, which published the study Thursday.
“What we present here is evidence of a firm time and location,” they said.
Based on the size of the footprints, researchers believe that at least some were made by children and teenagers who lived during the last ice age.
David Bustos, the park’s resource program manager, spotted the first footprints in ancient wetlands in 2009. He and others found more in the park over the years.
“We knew they were old, but we had no way to date the prints before we discovered some with (seeds) on top,” he said Thursday.
Made of fine silt and clay, the footprints are fragile, so the researchers had to work quickly to gather samples, Bustos said.
“The only way we can save them is to record them — to take a lot of photos and make 3D models,” he said.
Earlier excavations in White Sands National Park have uncovered fossilized tracks left by a saber-toothed cat, dire wolf, Columbian mammoth and other ice age animals.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Tampa, Florida (WFLA) — SpaceX made history on Wednesday night when it launched the world’s first all-civil mission to get going from the Space Coast, Florida.
The Inspiration4 mission took off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center around 8:03 pm on Wednesday. The four crew members on the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft were launched onto a reusable Falcon 9 rocket and later separated from the spacecraft and landed on the drone.
The mission’s five-hour launch window began at 8:02 EST. The window was very large, as the crew was sent to orbit the Earth rather than the International Space Station, and therefore did not have such strict time constraints.
The crew is set to travel 350 miles above the surface of the Earth, about 100 miles higher than the International Space Station.
“This is important and historic, because it’s the best time humans have been in orbit since the Hubble Space Telescope mission,” said Benjireed, SpaceX’s manned spaceflight director.
The crew will spend three days in orbit to participate in research experiments on human health and performance. We hope that the results of our research will apply not only to future space flight, but also to human health here on Earth.
Inspiration4’s main goal is to provide and inspire support for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. They want to raise $ 200 million for St. Jude in a three-day mission.
According to SpaceX, each of the four members of the crew was chosen to represent the pillars of a mission of prosperity, generosity, hope and leadership. The Inspiration 4 crew and the pillars they represent are:
SpaceX trained all four crew members as commercial astronauts on Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft. The crew was trained in orbital mechanics, microgravity, weightlessness, other stress tests, emergency preparedness, and spacesuit training.
The mission was funded by Isaacman in a private transaction with SpaceX. Isaacman has also invested $ 100 million towards a funding target for the St. Jude mission.
Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit
Source link Inspiration4 Lift Off: SpaceX Launches World’s First All-Citizen Mission in Earth’s Orbit
Researchers have created a winged microchip around the size of a sand grain that may be the smallest flying device yet made, Vice has reported. They’re designed to be carried around by the wind and could be used in numerous applications including disease and air pollution tracking, according to a paper published by Nature. At the same time, they could be made from biodegradable materials to prevent environmental contamination.
The design of the flyers was inspired by spinning seeds from cottonwood and other trees. Those fall slowly by spinning like helicopters so they can be picked up by the wind and spread a long distance from the tree, increasing the range of the species.
The team from Northwest University ran with that idea but made it better, and smaller. “We think we’ve beaten biology… we’ve been able to build structures that fall in a more stable trajectory at slower terminal velocities than equivalent seeds,” said lead Professor John A. Rogers. “The other thing… was that we were able to make these helicopter flyer structures that are much smaller than seeds you would see in the natural world.”
They’re not so small that the aerodynamics starts to break down, though. “All of the advantages of the helicopter design begin to disappear below a certain length scale, so we pushed it all the way, as far as you can go or as physics would allow,” Rogers told Vice. “Below that size scale, everything looks and falls like a sphere.”
The devices are also large enough to carry electronics, sensors and power sources. The team tested multiple versions that could carry payloads like antenna so that they could wireless communicate with a smartphone or each other. Other sensors could monitor things like air acidity, water quality and solar radiation.
The flyers are still concepts right now and not ready to deploy into the atmosphere, but the team plans to expand their findings with different designs. Key to that is the use of biodegradable materials so they wouldn’t persist in the environment.
“We don’t think about these devices… as a permanent monitoring componentry but rather temporary ones that are addressing a particular need that’s of finite time duration,” Rogers said. “That’s the way that we’re envisioning things currently: you monitor for a month and then the devices die out, dissolve, and disappear, and maybe you have to redeploy them.”
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