Giant Flightless Bird Gastornis Sheds Light On Impact Of Climate Change On Animals, Plants In The Arctic


Climate change has been a known driver for a variety of environmental issues. A new study involving a "flightless bird" called Gastornis sheds more light on the impacts of climate change on animals and plants in the Arctic.

The fossil of a Gastornis' toe bone was unearthed on the Ellesmere Island above the Arctic Circle in the 1970s. Although it was discovered many decades back, this is the first time that paleontologists were able to take a closer look and pay particular attention to climate change implications.

The bird is estimated to have had a height of about 6 feet and wandered in the winter wonderland of the high Arctic some 53 million years ago.

Gastornis In The Arctic Circle: Result Of Climate Change

The Gastornis, other mammals and reptiles in the Eocene Arctic fauna most likely over-wintered the Arctic, says the researchers. Although the climate there in Ellesmere Islands is milder, the species experienced long, dark nights during the winter.

The presence of Gastornis, along with another duck-like species called Presbyornis, may or may not be a result of yearly migration. Experts think that it is possible for the species to have been year-round residents there.

What The Bird Says About The Future

The presence of the extinct birds now provides clues about the possible migration patterns that the same species of today may embark in the future. Warming temperatures, such as in the Eocene epoch, may pave the way for new residents in the Arctic Circle.

"Permanent Arctic ice, which has been around for millennia, is on track to disappear," says co-author Jaelyn Eberle. She clarifies, however, that alligators and giant tortoises are not sure to return to Ellesmere Islands in the near future. The point is, knowing the patterns of warming in the past may help predict changes in animal and plant populations.

Animal And Plant Habitat Needs

Wildlife depends on a multitude of factors, but one of the most important is the health of its habitat.

Animals and plants need to live under environmental temperatures that is particularly suitable for it. For example, melting arctic ice takes away polar bears' hunting ground and thus may not be conducive to their survival.

Warmer water is not healthy for salmon, trout and other species that require cold water to survive.

Lastly, increased ocean temperature can also cause harm to corals. In fact, high ocean temperatures have already caused coral bleaching, which in turn affects marine ecosystems and massive populations of fish.

Impacts Of Climate Change To Fresh Water

Some animals and plants depend on fresh water supply; however, climate change may get in the way. Large floods increase the levels of erosion and thus decreases the quality of freshwater and ultimately degrades marine habitat.

Food Supply

Climate change may also affect the food supply of animals, especially of migratory birds. Birds follow a schedule for foraging insects, flowers and plant seeds. Due to climate change, this schedule becomes mixed up and hence, impairs food search.

Milder winters also cause seasonal food to spoil thus, some birds are left with rotten food for the entire winter.

Animals and plants require specific conditions in its area of settlement. Any change to its usual habitat may cause unwanted effects to health and ultimately, to the entire ecosystem.

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