Babbler bird falls into climate change trap

December 16, 2020

Animals can fall into an "ecological trap" by altering their behaviour in the "wrong direction" in response to climate change, researchers say.

The so-called "rescue hypothesis" suggests many species might successfully adapt to changing conditions, especially those that are flexible in their behaviour.

But a new study, by the University of Exeter, found that chestnut-crowned babbler birds responded to rising temperatures by changing their behaviour in ways that could actually reduce successful breeding.

This occurred because they reacted to warm peak temperatures in early spring by breeding earlier - but average temperatures at this time are still colder than later in spring, which is bad for incubating eggs.

Instead of spending more time incubating, females responded to the cold by incubating less - which might improve their own survival chances but exposes their developing eggs to harmful, low temperatures.

"We hope that animals that are more responsive to changes in their environment can cope better with climate change, but unfortunately they can make mistakes that make their situation even worse," said Alex Cones, who worked on this research during her masters at the University of Exeter.

Professor Andy Russell, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter's Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: "Many animals breed as early as they can in spring, and climate change is causing this to happen earlier and earlier.

"Paradoxically, our study shows that earlier breeding in response to warming means babbler eggs and offspring are more exposed to the cold.

"Babblers should respond by incubating their eggs more, but they don't.

"Incubating eggs is more costly for the mother in terms of energy in low temperatures, so they focus on their own survival and reduce incubation."

Professor Russell added: "Parental care is adaptable, not fixed, but in this case the birds adapt in the wrong direction for their chicks' survival - falling into an ecological 'trap'."

Chestnut-crowned babblers live in desert habitats in south-east Australia.

Their eggs must be kept at more than 25°C (77°F) to survive, and development happens best and fastest at about 38°C (100°F).

The researchers say more studies are required to discover whether "plastic" (adaptable) parenting could provide an "evolutionary rescue package" to protect species from environmental change.

But they conclude that the evidence from this study is "not encouraging".
-end-
The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

The paper, published in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, is entitled: "Temperature-mediated plasticity in incubation schedules is unlikely to evolve to buffer embryos from climatic challenges in a seasonal songbird."

University of Exeter

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.