Some species might be both winners and losers under climate change

Jul 20, 2017

We talk a lot about how people can adapt to climate change, and scientists have found that some animals are changing their behavior, too. The ability to change rapidly because of environmental changes is called behavioral flexibility.

Erik Beever is a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He says that a diverse number of species across the animal kingdom are exhibiting behavioral flexibility.

“It may be within a smaller group, it may be some species in a particular family but not other species in a particular family. Within a given species, it may be some populations in some parts of their geographic range, but not in other parts of their range,” he says.

Beever says birds, mammals and invertebrates are doing many different kinds of things to adapt.

“We used an approach to essentially comprehensively and exhaustively review published literature to find what are the contexts in which species are exhibiting this behavioral flexibility to accommodate environmental change and contemporary climate change,” he says.

“And we found that the changes included changes in timing of reproduction, timing in migration, feeding behaviors, habitats, how they regulate their own temperature, how they avoid predators, and things of that nature.”

Beever says there are limits to animals’ ability to adapt, simply because certain environmental conditions or physiological characteristics are impossible to overcome.

So what does this mean for the animal kingdom?

“I think the bigger picture is that we have a pretty nuanced story in terms of species’ response to contemporary climate change and of the near and longer-term consequences of that," he says. "There was a perspective some years ago that species will be either climate change winners or climate change losers. And the more research that comes out, the more that we're finding that species in parts of their range are winners and in other parts of their range they're losers. And in some years they're winners and in other years they're losers."

You can listen to the interview with Erik Beever above.