Animal Behaviors Are Shifting Due to Climate Change
Climate change is driving shifts in animal behaviors, particularly on migration patterns and adaptations to food sources and habitats. These shifts are not only vital for the survival of various species but also offer valuable insights into the broader consequences of climate change on our world.
Animals from all regions of the world are evolving to meet these challenges.
Bird Migratory Patterns
Climate change is causing shifts in the timing when birds migrate and in the areas where they can be found. Warmer temperatures are influencing when and where certain bird species travel during their annual migrations, according to World Migratory Bird Day. It states, "Climate change is already affecting many migratory birds due to rising temperatures, alterations in vegetation, and extreme weather conditions, leading to substantial changes in their critical habitats."
These factors are likely causes for declining bird populations and altered migration patterns. Climate change could affect migratory birds in many ways, including more frequent storms, lower water levels, increased droughts, rising sea levels, and shifts in habitats, all of which could have a profound impact on their population.
Humboldt Squid Disappeared ... Or Did They?
About 13 years ago, fisherman off the Gulf Coast were shocked to find the giant Humboldt squid missing after a warm El Niño year and hurricane. They returned but vanished again in 2015.
Turns out they were hiding in plain sight due to climate change. Gulf Coast squid are now smaller in size, from about 6 feet to less than a foot in length, and they now dwell in deeper and cooler offshore waters.
Natural Selection for Lizards During Hurricanes
Lizards in the path of a hurricane have also adapted to more frequent storms. Those with bigger, grippier toe pads are more likely to survive, as they can hang on easier during a high wind event.
These resilient survivors will go on to reproduce successfully, passing down their genes to create a new generation of lizards with an even stronger grip.
Snowshoe Hares and Color Changes
When animals face changes in the climate, they have two options — move to a new place or change themselves to survive. Snowshoe hares change color with the seasons, so they match their surroundings. In a warmer climate, if they can't change their colors at the right time, they stand out and are easy prey.
Scientists studied nearly 200 hares in Montana and discovered that those with the wrong colors had a higher chance of getting eaten. If the climate continues to change, with snow coming later and melting earlier, the hare population could drop by as much as 23 percent by the end of this century if they can't change coat colors quickly enough.
Cape Ground Squirrels and Splooting
Cape ground squirrels live in arid or semi arid areas in South Africa, where temperatures have risen by 2.5°C (about 36°F) over the past two decades. The tiny animals have developed some interesting ways to cope with the heat — the stretch out on the ground to cool off (this is known as "splooting,") use their bushy tails for shade, and retreat to their burrows when the heat is just too much.
These squirrels are also shapeshifting. Their hind feet, which help them stay cool, have grown by 11 percent relative to their body size in less than two decades, and their spines have become about 6 percent shorter.
Moose Have a Pest Problem
Warmer temperatures bring more parasites to colder climates and certain species, like the moose, which typically lives in the northern United States and Canada. As a result of climate change, it might have to move even farther north.
Milder winters and less snow mean there are more winter ticks, which can weaken moose by feeding on their blood. This can be deadly, especially for calves.
The Tiny Pika Must Climb Higher for Relief
About the size and shape of a hamster, the pika typically lives at high elevations in cool, moist conditions. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that pika populations are now disappearing from a wide area, from the Sierra Nevadas to the Rocky Mountains. Populations within some areas are migrating to higher elevations, likely to avoid reduced snowpacks and warmer summer temperatures.
Unfortunately, pikas are strongly tied to a rocky-talus habitat (where sizable rocks or boulders are located on the inclines of mountains, cliffs, or rocky formations). However, they are also adapting to different surroundings.
Puffins Choose a Food Substitute
These small penguin-like birds with colorful bills are dwindling in numbers everywhere. Along the Gulf of Maine, puffins are struggling to find their main food sources, white hake and herring. As oceans temperatures rise, these fish are moving to deeper waters or further north, making it harder for puffins to feed themselves and their young.
Adult puffins attempt to make do by feeding younger puffins butterfish, but the little ones can't eat these large fish, and many of them are dying from hunger. This is causing delays in breeding, lower birth rates, and fewer chicks are surviving overall.
Polar Bears Are Losing Sea Ice
In 2008, polar bears were declared a threatened species due to their numbers declining as a result of climate change. The main reason for their decline is the loss of their sea ice habitat, which is linked to Arctic warming.
Polar bears need sea ice to hunt seals (their main food source) and move across large areas to find food. They have adjusted somewhat by looking for food on land or swimming longer distances to hunt, but experts predict that as sea ice shrinks, it will become even tougher for them to survive, causing their populations to plummet.
Sockeye Salmon Are Spawning Earlier in the Year
Sockeye salmon in the Columbia River are migrating earlier each year in the spring and early summer to spawn. A study from 2011 in the "American Naturalist" journal looked at 60 years of data to see if warmer river temperatures were causing this.
The research found that about two-thirds of the change was likely due to the salmon evolving in response to climate change, while the rest could be attributed to changes in river flow.