New research shows that salamanders are shrinking in size as part of an adaptive response to climate change. The study measured the lengths of salamanders, finding them on average shorter, especially in warmer and drier conditions. This is a relatively novel area of research, as previous studies on the decline of amphibians, including salamanders, have rarely focused on climate change. The team that made this discovery had set out to study salamander population decline, and finding that disease was not the cause, were curious about whether climate change had anything to do with it. Their hypothesis turned out to be correct.
Scientists haven’t isolated the biological process that is at work; it could be plasticity, the ability of an organism to adjust its biological features based on changes in its environment. Alternatively, the reduced length of the salamanders could be due to changes in gene activity. Models suggest that compared to their ancestors, salamanders now need to burn more energy to stay as active, and spend more time finding food and hiding from predators.
All in all, it’s a difficult state of affairs for the little critters: hotter, and drier. Think of how all you want to do during a heat wave is lounge around under a tree with a cold drink; these little guys don’t have that luxury, and are shrinking just to keep up. At least we’re learning more about how they’re being affected, and hopefully we can ease their plight, especially the endangered ones, by fighting climate change.
Source: National Geographic
Image credit: Seemann via MorgueFile, Morguefile License