New evidence suggests climate change is affecting animal behavior

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Prem Sichanugrist via Flickr

Weather and climate have a significant influence on life on Earth. Weather is the condition of the atmosphere at a specific time and place. It is described by several elements such as temperature, precipitation, wind, and clouds. Climate refers to the long-term pattern of weather in a particular area. When we talk about climate change, we talk about the changes in existing weather patterns or the occurrences of new weather patterns that remain for an extended period of time. 

Scientists have warned of extreme changes in climate due to human activities. Growth of industries, agriculture and population have increased the emission of greenhouse gases and changed the components of the atmosphere on a global scale. The increased concentration of greenhouse gases leads to an average increase in the temperature, known as global warming. There is growing concern about the complicated impacts of the rising temperatures on animals and plants.

Researchers in Scotland have found that warmer springs have led woodland birds such as blue tits to begin breeding earlier. The study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. This is new evidence that birds are being affected by climate change and global warming in their behaviour.

Analysing data from 40 Scottish sites over a five-year period, scientists have identified how rising temperatures affect birds’ breeding behaviour. Blue tits were also found to lay eggs sooner if birch trees come into leaf earlier. This is some of the first evidence that birds use trees as a cue for timing breeding.

Rising temperatures have also caused the peak in the number of caterpillars – blue tits’ primary food source – to occur earlier in the year. Though the birds are mating and reproducing earlier as a response, they are often not fast enough, scientists say. As a result, the chicks may hatch when food is no longer in plentiful supply. .

Data collected from other two national citizen science projects have shown similar results – that woodland birds are changing their breeding patterns across the UK. This is one piece of new evidence that climate change is affecting animal behaviour. Dr Jack Shutt, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “Working out what information birds use to time breeding is key to us accurately predicting how this may change under future conditions, and what effect this will have on them.”

This article was written by Yuchieh Cheng and edited by Miles Martin

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