Birds and mammals have a better chance of surviving the fast-changing climate on Earth in comparison to reptiles and amphibians.
A new study analyzed around 11,5000 species to see how they fared over the past 270 million years when the weather fluctuated between hot and cold. The findings suggest that warm-blooded creatures have a better coping mechanism than amphibians and reptiles.
"We see that mammals and birds are better able to stretch out and extend their habitats, meaning they adapt and shift much easier," said lead author Jonathan Rolland, a University of British Columbia researcher.
Rolland added that adaptability has a strong effect on the rate of extinction and what the planet could look like in the future.
Survival Of Warm-Blooded Animals
The research team noted that around 66 million years ago, a huge asteroid smashed into the Yucatan Peninsula. The ensuing debris in the atmosphere made Earth's temperatures colder. The collision and its aftermath annihilated all dinosaurs that were non-avian, right from the triceratops to the T-Rex.
The warm-blooded animals, however, survived and thrived because they did not have to deal with predatory dinosaurs.
The Effect Of Global Warming On Endotherms And Ectotherms
Today, another mass extinction event has been triggered by global warming. It is the first since the dinosaurs disappeared and the sixth in Earth's last half-billion year history. In fact, species are becoming extinct 100 times faster in comparison to the situation prior to the Industrial Revolution.
Rolland and his colleagues looked at genetic data and fossil records to reconstruct where animals flourished over the last 270 million years and the temperature that enabled them to live.
When a balmy Earth gradually became cooler around 40 million years ago, birds and mammals could successfully move and adapt to new habitats. However, the same was not true for cold-blooded animals.
Roland explained that this could be the reason why so few amphibians and reptiles can be seen in temperate climates or in the Antarctic. Although environmental pressure can make them evolve too, it takes more time.
Warm-blooded animals belong to the group called endotherms that can regulate body temperature, enabling them in keeping their offsprings and embryos warm and boosts the chance of survival. The group that is inclusive of birds and mammals can also hibernate or migrate in an easier way than ectotherms. The group called ectotherms where cold-blooded creatures belong and whose body temperature is influenced by the environment.
The findings are important because more knowledge about the past extinction and evolution of species can help humans know how manmade climate change can impact the biodiversity of the Earth.
The study was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on Jan. 29.