Why some animals are shrinking

Birds, mammals, and fish are miniaturizing as temperatures rise. Why?

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Animals all across the world are undergoing a strange transformation. In Appalachia, salamander body sizes have decreased by 8 percent since 1960; menhaden fish caught in the Atlantic are 15 percent lighter than they were in 1987; and bird specimens at Chicago’s Field Museum have lost up to 4 percent of their body mass since collection began in the late 1970s.

A growing body of evidence suggests that these changes are the product of global warming: as average temperatures rise, smaller bodies make it easier for warm-blooded animals to stay cool. For cold-blooded animals, warming temperatures speed up metabolism and stunt their full growth. These changes might appear relatively small, but they can have a huge impact on animal’s lives, making them more susceptible to predation, reduced offspring count, and drying out in droughts.

Wild animals already face a wide range of threats; shrinking could push them even closer to extinction — with dire consequences for the ecosystems that humans rely on.

Read more about this from Vox.com reporter Benji Jones: https://www.vox.com/22558979/animals-birds-shrinking-size-heat-climate-change

And check out Vox’s project Down to Earth, featuring stories about the global biodiversity crisis. https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth

Read Jennifer Sheridan’s 2011 perspective here: https://www.nature.com/articles/nclimate1259

And Brian Weeks’ 2019 analysis: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ele.13434

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