When animals are hot, they eat less. This potentially fatal phenomenon hasbeen largely overlooked in wild animals, researchers from The AustralianNational University (ANU) warn in a new study.
According to lead author Dr Kara Youngentob, it means climate change could becontributing to more deaths among Australia’s iconic marsupials, like thegreater glider, than previously thought.
“Hot weather puts all animals off their food. Humans can deal with it fairlywell; we usually have plenty of fat reserves and lots of different foodoptions,” Dr Youngentob said.
“But it’s much more serious for animals with highly specialised diets, likegreater gliders. If they don’t eat regularly, they don’t meet theirnutritional requirements to stay alive. They also get most of their water fromtheir food, so not eating leads to dehydration too.
“Even night-time temperatures can get hot enough to cause nocturnal animals tolose their appetite during heatwaves.
“A lot of the focus until now has been on the impact of climate change on foodquality and quantity, but the bigger picture here is that hot animals eat lesseven if they have plenty of food.”
According to the researchers, marsupials have trouble processing the naturaltoxins in eucalyptus leaves at high temperatures. But they now warn hottemperatures alone, even with a toxin free diet, can stop them from eatingenough to stay alive.
Dr Youngentob said there are a few things we can do to address the issue,including protecting sources of food.
“If you’re eating less, the small amount you do eat needs to be morenutritious. Not all eucalypts have the same level of nutrients, so we need toidentify and protect those areas of the forest that have the best quality foodfor these animals,” Dr Youngentob said.
“We should restore degraded forest with more nutritious food trees too.
“We also need to look closely at what makes some forests cooler, and whatcontributes to forests getting hotter so we can protect and expand thosecooler microclimates.”
The paper has been published in _Trends in Ecology& Evolution. _
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