Climate change could reduce life-spans of hundreds of species

Aging in cold-blooded organisms such as amphibians linked to high temperatures

 

Hundreds of species could face reduced life-spans from the effects of climate change and even come under greater risk of extinction, a new study has found.

As well as challenging a long-accepted scientific theory around what determines lifespan, the new research suggests global warming could have a huge impact on life expectancy among cold-blooded species – reptiles and amphibians.

Conducted by researchers at Queens University Belfast and Tel Aviv University in Israel, the research has been able to show that the rising temperatures associated with climate change have a direct impact on longevity.

“Now we know that the life-expectancy of cold-blooded vertebrates is linked to environmental temperatures, we could expect to see their lifespan further reduced as temperatures continue to rise through global warming,” said Dr Daniel Pincheira-Donoso from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, one of the authors of the research which is published on Friday in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.

Its lead author, Israel-based Gavin Stark, said if increasing temperatures reduce lifetimes in certain species it may render them “more prone to go extinct as the climate warms”.

The study set out to explore the long-held “rate of living” theory which holds that the faster the metabolic rate of a creature, the shorter its lifespan.

This specifically refers to how fast or slow a species lives in terms of its internal body functions and how soon they begin to reproduce.

It has sought to explain why some vertebrates such as frogs only live a few months while whales and turtles can live for centuries.

However, the researchers analysed data from over 4,100 land vertebrate species across the planet and found the “rate of living” theory linking ageing to metabolism did not hold true.

Rather, they found, aging in cold-blooded organisms including amphibians and reptiles is linked to high temperatures. They now suggest that the hotter the environment, the faster the rate of living and, consequently, a shorter lifespan.

“The link between lifespan in cold-blooded animals and ambient temperatures could mean that they are especially vulnerable to the unprecedented global warming that the planet is currently experiencing,” said Mr Stark.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature amphibians are, on average, the most threatened group of endangered species with about 20 per cent of the world’s 10,000 species of lizards, snakes, turtles, crocodiles and other reptiles threatened with extinction.