New research suggests climate change could reduce lifespan for hundreds of species

Scientists have found that climate change could accelerate ageing and reduce lifespan, particularly for amphibians and reptiles.

Frog

A new study from Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland and Tel Aviv University in Israel has found that climate change could have a huge impact on cold-blooded species, such as reptiles and amphibians.

Advertisement

Researchers tested and analysed data from over 4,100 terrestrial vertebrate species from across the globe, to investigate the ‘rate of living’ theory.

The ‘rate of living’ theory claims the faster an animal’s metabolism, the shorter their life expectancy. Therefore, explaining why some frogs can only live for months, while species such as whales and tortoises can live for centuries.

The study found that rates of ageing in cold-blooded organisms including amphibians and reptiles are related to high temperatures.

These findings have resulted in scientists offering a new hypothesis: ‘the hotter the environment is, the faster the rate of living that in turn leads to more accelerated ageing and a shorter lifespan.’

“Our findings can have critical implications for our understanding of factors that contribute to extinctions,” explains Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso, co-author and lecturer in Evolution & Macroecology at the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast. “Especially in modern times when we are facing a worldwide decline of biodiversity, with cold-blooded animals being particularly endangered.”

“Now we know that the life-expectancy of cold-blooded vertebrates is linked to environmental temperatures, we could expect to see their lifespans further reduced as temperatures continue to rise through global warming.”

According to the IUCN Red List, amphibians are, on average, the most threatened group. With that being said, it is estimated that one in five of the world’s approximately 10,000 species of lizard, snakes, turtles, crocodiles and other reptiles are susceptible to extinction.

Gavin Stark, lead author and PhD student at Tel Aviv University and first author on the paper says, “The link between lifespan in cold-blooded animals (amphibians and reptiles) and ambient temperatures could mean that they are especially vulnerable to the unprecedented global warming that the planet is currently experiencing. Indeed, if increasing ambient temperatures reduces longevity, it may make these species more prone to go extinct as the climate warms.”

Dr Pincheira-Donoso concludes: “We need to further develop our understanding of this link between biodiversity and climate change. Only armed with knowledge will we be able to inform future policies that could prevent further damage to the ecosystem.”

Advertisement

Read the full paper in Global Ecology and Biogeography.