Global warming is already causing animals to evolve and migrate – ‘'The chipmunks’ poor prospects are evident in their genes’Posted by Jim at Friday, October 18, 2013
By Sarah Griffiths
17 October 2013
(Daily Mail) – From chipmunks to Mediterranean spiders, animals are evolving to cope with the effects of hotter temperatures, a scientist has claimed.
DNA evidence suggests the European wasp spider is evolving into a new form and is moving to cooler regions to set up home in parts of northern Europe, while chipmunks living in Yosemite park in California are moving to higher, cooler altitudes, a biologist claims.
The scientist believes that the changes are due to the effects of global warming and as habitats move, populations of animals that have previously not crossed paths, are mixing and have the potential to spread and adapt in new ways.
Systems biologist Michael White, of the Department of Genetics and the Centre for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said animals are already feeling the heat from global warming and are having to adapt.
Writing for Pacific Standard, he said scientists tracking the movements of animals have repeatedly found that plants and animals have altered their behaviour in response to earlier springs and milder temperatures by moving to higher latitudes and altitudes.
Dr White said global warming is in effect a large evolutionary experiment that is causing huge genetic changes as creatures rapidly adapt or become extinct.
With lots of land and marine creatures moving into new territories, scientists are concerned about what will happen when they meet, as it could dramatically change ecosystems and food chains.
They are turning to genetics to try and predict the present and future impact of global warming, by studying DNA in a scientific field called landscape genetics.
Dr White cited the work of a team of scientists at the University of California-Berkeley as an example of how creatures are adapting to warmer temperatures.
The scientists studied alpine chipmunks living in Yosemite National Park and found that over 100 years the animals have moved to higher altitudes as the average temperature of the park has risen by three degrees Celsius.
While there is an argument that the creatures are adapting to global warming, their numbers in the area have declined, causing some experts to question if they are simply on a fast-track to extinction in the region.
The researchers compared DNA from historical specimens of the species collected in 1915 with contemporary chipmunks and discovered evidence of genetic erosion.
In effect, the alpine chipmunk population is breaking up into isolated, genetically-limited groups and losing diversity in their DNA, which makes them more vulnerable to disease and natural disasters such as drought.
'The chipmunks' poor prospects are evident in their genes,' wrote Dr White.
DNA evidence also suggests the European wasp spider is evolving and have colonised new areas as they seek cooler climates. [more]