It sounds far-fetched, but scientists increasingly believe that animals – including people – will get smaller if global warming runs out of control.Researchers studying fossils laid down in what is now Wyoming the last time temperatures rose rapidly, some 55 million years ago found that animals – from horses to insects – adapted by downsizing.
The clumsily entitled Bighorn Basin Coring Project – funded by the US National Science Foundation and involving scientists from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands as well as America – concludes that undergoing such ‘dwarfism’ was the only way that many species could survive.
The research – reported by Climate News Network, a new service set up by four veteran British journalists – seems to reinforce earlier studies which have come up with similar results.
One – published two years ago by scientists at the University of Florida in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution – found that a hyena type animal shrank by half, from the size of a bear to that of a coyote, during the same period.
One reason might be that animals do tend to be smaller in warmer climates; brown bears are generally bigger in Alaska than Montana, for example. Another is that food supplies may get much less plentiful partly because of climate change and partly, say the scientist because – contrary to widespread belief among sceptics – higher levels of carbon dioxide makes plants less nutritious.
In fact, the scientists think, animals, and humans, might be lucky for a chance to get smaller, since temperatures may rise too fast to allow evolution to take place among long-lived species.
50-five million years ago it took the world 10,000 years to heat by six degrees centigrade; now, some believe, it could happen in just two centuries. Sounds like a future better suited for Bilbo Baggins than the rest of us.
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