Will Global Warming Shrink Animals?
What doesnít kill you makes you smaller. Okay, thatís not exactly how the expression goes, but it may still prove true if recent research pans out. According to a new study, global warming is likely to shrink mammals. Prepare for all of your favorite creatures to get tinier.
Experts believe shrinking is a reasonable expectation based on precedent. By examining the skeletons of mammals that lived during previous periods of extreme heat, researchers were able to chart how species physically decreased in size.
55 million years ago, temperatures spiked by up to 14 degrees Fahrenheit worldwide for a span of 160,000 years. Remains from creatures that lived during this time demonstrate that they were smaller than their ancestors. Though the heat gradually subsided and mammals regrew to their normal size two million years later, global temperatures soared a second time causing the animals to dwarf yet again.
ďThe fact that it happened twice significantly increases our confidence that weíre seeing cause and effect, that one interesting response to global warming in the past was a substantial decrease in body size in mammalian species,Ē said Philip Gingerich, a University of Michigan professor and lead researcher on the study.
Gingerichís findings back up research he conducted seven years ago. Evidence suggests that in periods of global warming, plants generate fewer life-sustaining nutrients. As a result, mammals adapted by shrinking, thereby accommodating a lower nutrient intake.
Perhaps more significantly, this research also supports earlier studies by other scientific teams, as well.† Other studies have linked an increase in carbon dioxide levels with shrinking mammals. Even if only one of carbon emissions and heat actually causes animal shrinking, considering that both are the result of manmade climate change, it makes it all the more likely that weíll be getting smaller.
Thatís right, we. Letís not forget that humans are mammals, too. Assuming that our species can survive this environmental crisis, that means that our descendants are also liable to be shrunken versions of ourselves.
Mammals arenít the only things expected to shrink thanks to climate change, however. Leaked documents from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that the group anticipates the available food supply to decrease drastically in the near future. Additionally, Nature Climate Change journal estimates that 34% of animals will lose at least half of their habitat by 2080. With both food and living spaces shrinking, it only makes sense that the earthís creatures will need to evolve in order to adapt to these new conditions.
All of this research stands to illustrate that bigger isnít always better. In fact, in the face of mounting global warming, getting smaller might be our best shot at survival.