Plants, animals shrinking because of climate change: S’pore study
04:46 AM Oct 18, 2011
Hong Kong – Plants and animals are shrinking because of warmer temperatures and lack of water, researchers said yesterday, warning it could have profound implications for food production in years ahead.
“The worst-case scenarios … are that food crops and animals will shrink enough to have real implications for food security,” said Assistant Professor David Bickford of the National University of Singapore’s biological sciences department.
Prof Bickford and colleage Jennifer Sheridan trawled through fossil records and dozens of studies which showed that many species of plants and creatures like spiders, beetles, bees, ants and cicadas have shrunk over time in relation to climate change.
They cited an experiment showing how shoots and fruit are 3 to 17 per cent smaller for every degree Celcius of warming in a variety of plants. Each degree of warming also reduces by 0.5 to 4 per cent the body size of marine invertebrates and 6 to 22 per cent of fish.
Species which are unable to adapt quickly enough are at risk of extinction as ecosystems shift dramatically, altering the balance of food and other resources needed for survival, the researchers wrote in their paper which was published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“Because recent climate change may be faster than past historical changes in climate, many organisms may not respond or adapt quick enough. This implies that species may go extinct,” they said.
The change could have a major impact on the expanding human population. Reduced food supplies are likely to mean that animals at the top of their food chains – including humans – will grow to smaller sizes, have fewer offspring and be more vulnerable to disease.
“We have not seen the large-scale effects yet, but as temperature change even more, these changes in body size might become much more pronounced – even having impacts for food security,” the study said.