The Age of Humans The Age of Humans

Ten Species That Are Evolving Due to the Changing Climate

From tropical corals to tawny owls, some species are already being pushed to evolve—but adaptation doesn’t guarantee survival

A group of great tit birds (Parus major) perch on a dead tree stump during a snowfall in Poland. (Grzegorz Lesniewski/NiS/Minden Pictures/Corbis)

Great Tits

(Courtesy of Flickr user Pescalune Photo)

Sometimes organisms are slow to adapt. In Holland’s Hoge Veluwe Park, caterpillars are maturing earlier each year as spring comes earlier. But their predators, great tits (Parus major), aren’t always changing their schedule to hatch when the caterpillars are at their peak, and bird numbers are dropping. As with the hibernating mosquitoes, great tits have a genetic trigger that spurs them to lay eggs when spring arrives. But there’s some variation in how much an individual bird can tweak its egg-laying date in response to an earlier spring. A study of 833 great tits in Hoge Veluwe over 32 years did find greater genetic selection for birds that could vary their egg-laying time to match the caterpillars' arrival. If this trend continues, it could save them from decline, but it remains unclear whether they can change fast enough to beat rising temperatures.

About Helen Thompson
Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson writes about science and culture for Smithsonian. She's previously written for NPR, National Geographic News, Nature and others.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus