Survival of the fittest. This basic tenet of evolution explains why the dodo bird no longer exists and why humans have opposable thumbs. Adaptation is key to survival, no matter how many fingers you’ve got. The ability to adjust to whatever conditions Mother Earth sends our way determines whether disasters lead to extinction or to a new generation.
Human-accelerated climate change is a disaster waiting to happen. We’ve already seen the superstorms and drought it can create. Although we can work to slow climate change, there’s no way to stop it completely. This reality means adaptation will once again become the most important strategy for survival.
One thing’s for sure: the Earth will continue to exist as it has for eons. The question is, what will be left behind to inhabit it? Below are five species known for their resilience and ability to survive in adverse conditions. They are the most likely to survive a climate change disaster. (Spoiler: human is not on the list).
A study published in the latest edition of Ecology and Evolution found that a certain Amazon tree species has the ability to survive for millions of years. According to recent tests, some trees in Panama, Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, French Guiana, and Bolivia are around 8 million years old, meaning they’ve already lived through period of much warmer temperatures. However, the study is at odds with other recent research, based on ecological niche-modeling scenarios, which predicted tree species’ extinctions in response to relatively small increases in global average air temperatures. Still, the study authors acknowledge that while the trees might be able to withstand temperature changes, they’re still susceptible to deforestation.
Wolves and Coyotes
Climate change represents a particular threat to mammals. Recent research suggests a safe haven could be out of reach for 9 percent of the Western Hemisphere’s mammals, and as much as 40 percent in certain regions, because the animals just won’t move swiftly enough to outpace climate change. There are some mammals for whom roaming is a way of life, however. Wolves and coyotes are used to wandering vast tracts of wilderness in search of food, water, and safe shelter. Studies show that these traveling carnivores are one of the few species who could keep pace with a changing climate and the relocation of natural resources.
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These industrious creatures are already lauded as one of the world’s most adaptable species. As some of the planet’s oldest known insects, ants were recognized for their can-do attitude way back when the Greeks were writing their famous myths. Their colonial culture means that ants already know how to work together to guarantee survival of their Queen, and thus the species. There are approximately 20,000 different species of ant, with colonies of millions located all over the world. They were here long before humans, and the odds are good that they’ll be here long after.
Called one of the world’s most resilient and versatile species, algae is a strong contender in the race to survive climate change. Why? Well for starters, algae is an incredibly simple organism. Consisting of just a single cell, algae only needs a tiny amount of water, sunlight and nutrients to grow and multiply. Once of the few species that has been around since the beginning of evolution (remember the primordial slime?), there are over 200,000 varieties known to man. The chances of more than a couple making it through are pretty good.
As gross as they may appear, you’ve got to applaud the resilience of the cockroach. The bane of residential exterminators, these creepy crawlers have an amazing ability to survive in the most dire of circumstances. In laboratory experiments performed at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, Pa., entomologist Christopher Tipping discovered that American cockroaches could survive for several weeks in a jar after having their heads removed and the wound sealed with dental wax! Often cited as the species most likely to endure a nuclear attack, climate change will be a walk in the park for the durable cockroach.
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