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A Wilder View: Studying how wild animals adjusting to climate change

A Wilder View: Studying how wild animals adjusting to climate change

MISSOULA — Have you ever slept through a thunderstorm or an earthquake? Certain animals may be snoozing through storms -- and that is a good thing.

Natural disasters increasingly affect many parts of the world and can have adverse effects on humans and animals.

Biologists have reported sharks escaping to the open ocean prior to hurricanes, elephants fleeing coastal regions during a tsunami, or birds circumventing a tornado, but the behavior and physiology of animals during storms has never been quantified.

Climatologists predict that changes in global weather patterns will increase the frequency and intensity of storms, floods, droughts and wildfires.

Studies have shown that certain mammals go into a state of torpor -- or a state of drowsiness -- like hibernation as an effective adaptation of animals to survive seasonal food shortages and bad weather.

So, think about animals like squirrels and mice as examples of species that can go into this energy-saving state.

Biologists are now finding these may also be adaptations to deal with unpredictable conditions, such as unseasonal cold spells or famines.

This state of drowsiness allows animals to lower their body temperatures to save energy and usually when the animals are doing this, they are in a sheltered area, so they are also protected from extreme environmental conditions and predation.

Recent extinctions have shown that employing this state of drowsiness called torpor puts these species at a lower risk of extinction than animals that cannot go into this energy-saving state.

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