Wildlife biologists are trying to predict how animal populations all over the world will respond to climate change.
There are many examples of how projected future temperatures will dramatically affect the performance of a wide range of animal species whose body temperature is at the same as the environment in which they live. Some species will acclimate to warmer temperatures; their bodies will adjust. Other species that are able may simply move to cooler habitats.
But it’s unknown what species of animals can adapt and survive over the long term to global rising temperatures.
Determining the future of animals in aquatic environments is a challenge an LFS researcher took part in.
The research team investigated the potential for juvenile Chinook salmon to adapt to warming water temperatures. They examined the capacity for evolutionary change using a genetic breeding program.
The salmon’s response to warmer than normal water acclimation temperature was measured across all the genetic variations of the fish created for this research project.
It was discovered that Chinook from the Quinsam River can acclimate to a warmer environment with subtle changes to cardiac functions, but only up to a point.
At 24.5°C and regardless of the acclimation temperature, the Chinook developed serious cardiac problems.
Professor Anthony Farrell, a UBC zoologist and member of the international research team describes what happens to the fish.
“Its heart beats faster and faster with warming until at 24.5°C it can beat no faster, then it either slows or goes arrhythmic,” says Professor Anthony Farrell, Chair, Sustainable Aquaculture. Farrell goes on to explain that if climate change continues unchecked, Chinook salmon from the Quinsam River would be one animal species facing dire consequences because they discovered there’s a five per cent chance of catastrophic loss of this population of Chinook salmon by 2075 and upwards of a 98 per cent of the fish would be gone by 2100.
The research was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.