"This is the first time anyone has identified specific traits that tell us which mammals are responding to climate change and which are not," said McCain of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department.
McCain said she and King were surprised by some of the findings. "Overall the study suggests our large, charismatic fauna -- animals like foxes, elk, reindeer and bighorn sheep -- may be at more risk from climate change," she said. "The thinking that all animals will respond similarly and uniformly to temperature change is clearly not the case."
The researchers also found that species with higher latitudinal and elevation ranges, like polar bears, American pikas and shadow chipmunks, were more likely to respond to climate change than mammals living lower in latitude and elevation. The ability of mammals to hibernate, burrow and nest was not a good predictor of whether a species responded to climate change or not. American pikas have been extirpated from some of their previously occupied sites in the West, as have shadow chipmunks, which are in decline in California's Yosemite National Park.
One of the most intriguing study findings was that some small mammals may shelter from climate change by using a wider array of "micro-climates" available in the vegetation and soil, she said. McCain compared the findings with the events at the K-T boundary 66 million years ago when an asteroid smacked Earth, drastically changing the climate and killing off the big dinosaurs but sparing many of the small mammals that found suitable shelter underground to protect them from the cataclysmic event.
"I think the most fascinating thing about our study is that there may be certain traits like body size and activity behaviors that allow some smaller mammals to expand the range of temperature and h
|Contact: Christy McCain|
University of Colorado at Boulder