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Can wildlife adapt to climate change? - Erin Eastwood


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With rising temperatures and seas, massive droughts, and changing landscapes, successfully adapting to climate change is increasingly important. For humans, this can mean using technology to find solutions. But for some plants and animals, adapting to these changes involves the most ancient solution of all: evolution. Erin Eastwood explains how animals are adapting to climate change.

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In the face of today’s climate change, why won’t evolution be the answer for much of our planet’s biodiversity? The reason has to do with the rate of mutation for new traits. All the species in this lesson already had advantageous traits in their “evolutionary arsenal” to deal with climate change. As their environment changed, they relied on their existing genetic makeup for adaptation. However, for species that don’t already have these options, it often takes hundreds if not thousands of years for something totally new to crop up in their genomes. This is why preserving genetic diversity is a major goal for conservation biologists – it gives biodiversity more flexibility when facing an uncertain future.

For another amazing (and classic) example of adaptive evolution, check out this article about peppered moths in 19th-century England. Similar to tawny owls in the video, these historically light-colored moths use camouflage to blend in to their surroundings. But when soot from England’s industrial coal plants began to darken the trees of the forests, the once-rare dark-colored morph of peppered moths became more common. Then, when the country cleaned up its air in the late 1900’s, the light-colored moths made a comeback and the dark moths became rare again.

Why is biodiversity so important for our planet’s well-being? Kim Preshoff explains how biodiversity strengthens the web of life in this vibrant TED-Ed Lesson. And as legendary marine scientist Sylvia Earle puts it, “No water, no life; no blue, no green.”

Luckily for the majority of species unable to adapt evolutionarily, we humans can help them cope. But what does “climate adaptation” really mean? This video by the Society for Conservation Biology and Filmmakers for Conservation helps explain how climate change affects wildlife, why species will need to adapt, and what we can do to help.

For a more in-depth investigation into adaptation strategies being used now, take a look at the Climate Adaptation Knowledge Exchange – a database of all adaptation case studies in North America.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Erin Eastwood
  • Script Editor Emma Bryce
  • Director Franco Barroeta Fonseca, Sergio Castañeda
  • Animator Franco Barroeta Fonseca, Sergio Castañeda, Eduardo Sandoval, Vidal Barrera
  • Artist Franco Barroeta Fonseca, Sergio Castañeda, Eduardo Sandoval, Vidal Barrera
  • Producer Fernanda Adame
  • Sound Designer Christopher Bullé-Goyri
  • Narrator Addison Anderson

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