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Temperature Gauge

Notes from a Warming World

Climate Change Winners

We usually hear a lot about how our warming planet is adversely affecting species and ecosystems. But some new research indicates that climate change may not necessarily be gloom and doom for every living creature – at least not in the immediate future. Some species are showing themselves to be adaptable to rising temperatures. There are, it appears, some climate change success stories out there.

Butterfly Boom

Long spells of warm weather this summer provided perfect conditions for butterfly populations in the British Isles to bounce back following a string of bad years. The United Kingdom’s annual Big Butterfly Count recorded four times as many butterflies than last year across the nation’s gardens, parks, school playgrounds, and countryside. Conservationists described the count – 830,000 butterflies and day-flying moths – as a relief following the washout summer of 2012. Flying in the face of recent worrying declines, sightings of small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies rose by a staggering 388 percent and 3,500 percent, respectively, compared to 2012.

“Put simply, butterflies are cold-blooded creatures that rely on the warmth of the sun in order to be active,” says Richard Fox, survey manager with Butterfly Conservation, the group that organizes the annual count.

3849016586_68e091a37d_o.jpgphoto Flickr user colinmjpA small tortoiseshell butterfly. Long spells of warm weather this summer have helped
England’s butterfly population bounce back following a string of bad years.

Although conservationists are positive about the survey results this year they warn that “the weather will not solve the problem” of the long-term decline of butterflies in the UK. “The only way that we will be able to halt and reverse the long-term declines of these beautiful creatures is by redressing the damage that has been done to wildlife habitats across the UK landscape,” Fox says.

Beefy Bears

Climate change may be making some grizzly bears fatter – and that’s a good thing. “A simple rule is, the fatter the bear, the better. Certain environments promote fatter bears,” says Scott Nielsen, a biologist at the University of Alberta. Those “certain environments” may be more prevalent in a warming world.

Nielsen led a team that followed 112 bears in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta for 10 years and found that in years when spring arrived earlier due to warmer temperatures, adult bears found food more easily and had larger bodies. They found that grizzlies – which can reach 800 pounds – also developed more body fat, which increases the chances that females will successfully reproduce. Their study’s findings were published in September in the journal BMC Ecology.

Although grizzlies tend to be associated with northern environments, they used to be found as far south as Mexico, and some populations still exist in the Mongolian desert. “We hypothesize that warmer temperatures in this ecosystem, especially during late winter and spring, may not be such a bad thing for grizzlies,” Nielsen says.

Reef Relief

There’s hope out in the oceans, too. Scientists studying the fatal phenomena of coral bleaching, which is destroying reef systems across the oceans, have discovered that coral reefs may be more adaptable to increasingly warmer oceans than previously believed.

A team of researchers at Cal State-Monterey Bay and the University of British Columbia say that corals might make genetic adaptations that would help cope with warm waters and reduce that rate at which they bleach by 20 to 80 percent of levels expected by the year 2100. Their study, which suggests corals have already adapted to part of the warming that has occurred, was published online in the journal Global Change Biology.

“Our study shows that if corals can adapt to warming that has occurred over the past 40 to 60 years, some coral reefs may persist through the end of this century,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Cheryl Logan. That’s welcome news amid predictions that the world’s coral reefs will disappear by the middle of the century.

But the study came with a significant caveat. The scientists stressed that current losses could be slowed only if there are large reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.


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