Human-induced climate change is increasingly molding the habitats of Earth. Elevated temperatures, swift alterations in precipitation patterns and seasonal variations, and ocean acidification are creating modified environments for numerous animal species. How do these creatures adapt to these new, frequently extreme circumstances?
The nervous systems of animals play a crucial role in both enabling and constraining their responses to changing climates. As a biologist and neuroscientist, my primary research interests involve understanding how animals acclimate to temperature extremes and identifying the factors that influence the structure and function of animal nervous systems, particularly their brains. The convergence of these interests has led me to delve into the impact of climate on nervous systems and predict how animals are likely to react to swiftly changing environments.
The nervous system’s major functions – sensory detection, mental processing, and behavior direction – are vital, allowing animals to navigate their surroundings in ways that ensure their survival and reproduction. Climate change is poised to influence these functions, often in detrimental ways.
Alterations in Sensory Environments Fluctuating temperatures disrupt the energy balance of ecosystems, affecting everything from plants that generate energy through sunlight to animals that consume plants and other creatures. Consequently, this alters the sensory landscapes experienced by animals. Climate change is expected to pose challenges to all their senses, encompassing sight, taste, smell, and touch.