Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Chad's New and Hot, Week 5

Evolution and Global Climate Change

My new and hot for this week is a really cool article by Beth Daley of the Boston Globe that discusses the effect that changes in climate caused by humans are having on the process of natural selection in the animal world. Daley writes that the changes in the environment caused by global climate change favor animals with shorter life spans – such as insects and rodents – and put mammals and other animals that reproduce slowly at a disadvantage. Daley focuses on the Wyeomyia smithii, a species of mosquito in New England with an 8-week life span, whose recent generations can now enter hibernation over a week later they did 30 years ago. By doing this, they are able to take advantage of the late arrival of winter in the American northeast. Scientists fear that this manner of rapid adaptation to climate change will soon spread to other short-lived species of animal, especially potential disease carriers such as insects and rodents, while animals with longer life spans may become extinct or forced to migrate.

“Until now, the effects of climate warming had been most noticeable in the Arctic, as glaciers melt. But dramatic changes are also being seen in northern temperate zones such as New England, where the average winter temperature has risen 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the last 30 years. Growing seasons have lengthened, winter is arriving later, and the weather has become more erratic.

Scientists are worried that climate change, caused largely by the release of heat-trapping gases from power plants and cars, will drive evolution in unpredictable and unwelcome ways in these regions, where millions of people live. Researchers are trying to determine in more detail how species will adapt to a projected 3.2- to 7.2-degree rise in the world's average annual temperature by the end of the century. Their answers could help predict outbreaks of diseases spread by insects and rodents, and how ecosystems will change as species react at different rates to the warming.”

Check it out!

1 comment:

Robbie said...

The sequoias are actually relics of the same kind of climatic shift you're writing about here. The climate that they germinated in has long since moved north, but the individuals of the species live so long that the trees are still around.