Diversity aided mammals’ survival over deep time
When it comes to adapting to climate change, diversity is the mammal’s best defense.
That is one of the conclusions of the first study of how mammals in North Americaadapted to climate change in “deep time” – a period of 56 million years beginning with the Eocene and ending 12,000 years ago with the terminal Pleistocene extinction when mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, giant sloths and most of the other “megafauna” on the continent disappeared.
“Before we can predict how mammals will respond to climate change in the future, we need to understand how they responded to climate change in the past,” said Larisa R. G. DeSantis, the assistant professor of earth and environmental studies at Vanderbilt who directed the study. “It is particularly important to establish a baseline that shows how they adapted before humans came on the scene to complicate the picture.”
Establishing such a baseline is particularly important for mammals because their ability to adapt to environmental changes makes it difficult to predict how they will respond. For example, mammals have demonstrated the ability to dramatically alter their size and completely change their diet when their environment is altered. In addition, mammals have the mobility to move as the environment shifts. And their ability to internally regulate their temperature gives them more flexibility than cold-blooded organisms like reptiles.