In the event of a severe drought, which animals would do quite well and which ones will falter?

A new theoretical framework may be able to answer these questions, as researchers from James Cook University in Australia produced a template that measures animal physiology, environment, and other factors that could determine how a given species would deal with extreme droughts.

Lead researcher Tasmin Rymer said more frequent and worse droughts will hit many areas as the current rate of climate change becomes unprecedented in the planet’s history. Her team then developed a model that will help researchers estimate the probability of a species coping with such climate events.

Dubbed the “Adaptive Triquetra” model, it factors in the main driving stressors of droughts, namely limited water, temperature and reduced food availability. Afterwards, it looks at the ability of a creature’s particular body system to mount a response — and how much its traits prove adaptable.

“We have provided a comprehensive suite of traits to consider when making predictions about species’ resilience to drought,” Rymer said, adding that the process is more intricate than it appears and requires fully determining many species’ characteristics before the model can be used on them.

While still a conceptual framework needing to be tested, the Adaptive Triquetra is touted useful in managing wildlife.

South African reserve managers, for instance, may assume their animals’ suffering roots from lack of water during a drought. The reality could be that the vegetation surrounding their few artificial water holes have already been denuded, leading the poor ones to starve.

The new model, explained Rymer, could suggest a sustainable design that promotes movement and foraging in a bigger area, mainly through doing away with fences and optimally spacing water sources apart. Species hit by water stress can be assisted with more artificial water sources, while those vulnerable to high temperatures could be given subterranean homes.

The findings were published in The Quarterly Review of Biology.

In May, researchers from the Cyprus Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry warned that climate change could cause the Middle East and North Africa to become unlivable by 2050, with rapid and frequent temperature rise and air pollution from dust storms leading more than 500 million people to migrate.

Long periods of drought, they added, caused sandstorms that had led to increased atmospheric desert dust in countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Syria.

Photo: Bert Kaufmann | Flickr

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