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Scientists uncover unexpected side effect of rising temperatures on species: 'Maybe there's hope for species to be resilient'

Every ecosystem exists in balance — any change can have ripple effects that result in unforeseen consequences.

Every ecosystem exists in balance — any change can have ripple effects that result in unforeseen consequences.

Photo Credit: iStock

As our society's reliance on dirty energy sources like gas and oil continues to overheat our planet, the resulting changes to the climate affect ecosystems across the globe. In many cases, this has led to species becoming threatened and dying out. In others, species appear to be adapting to warmer temperatures.

A recent scientific study published in the journal Biotropica explored how some tropical mammals are responding to heat by sleeping during the day and hunting at night — traditionally, they have done the reverse.

The study, titled "A predominantly diurnal tropical mammal increases nocturnality in response to high temperatures," was summarized by Scientific American. It focused on the white-lipped peccary, a pig-like species also referred to as a white-lipped javelina that is predominantly active during the day. 

"Our findings indicate that white-lipped peccaries … demonstrate substantial behavioral flexibility in their response to high temperatures, which may help to buffer them against the impact of rising temperatures caused by climate change," the study's authors wrote.

"Maybe there's hope for species to be resilient, to an extent," study co-author Michaela Peterson, a doctoral candidate at Vanderbilt University, told Scientific American.  

However, while the behavioral changes might help the white-lipped peccaries survive, it's not all good news, as Scientific American noted. Looking for food at night may leave the peccaries more vulnerable to nocturnal predators such as pumas. And since peccaries are naturally active during the day, it would likely be difficult for them to make their way around in the dark.

More broadly speaking, every ecosystem exists in balance — any change, such as a diurnal species becoming nocturnal, can have ripple effects that result in unforeseen consequences. And the more the balance is upset, the more ripple effects there will be.

Twenty-one species were recently declared extinct, and those species were all native to the United States, representing just a fraction of species going extinct around the world.

While we're certainly rooting for the survival of species like the white-lipped peccary, we cannot simply hope that they navigate the effects of rising temperatures on their own. As a society, we must move beyond the dirty energy sources that are destroying our environment and embrace clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

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