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Briana Abrahms & Kasim Rafiq in The Conversation on climate change threatening African wild dogs

Monday, November 14, 2022 - 14:45

Briana Abrahms, Biology Assistant Professor, and Kasim Rafiq, Biology Postdoctoral Researcher, co-authored a piece in The Conversation on how climate change is causing endangered African wild dogs to give birth later, thus threatening the survival of the pack.

Wildlife are responding and adapting to climate change in various ways. Some adaptations are more obvious. Flowering plants, for example, are blooming sooner each year in parts of the northern hemisphere as climate change draws the onset of spring progressively earlier in the calendar.

Other adaptations are more covert, as we’ve discovered in the case of the African wild dog.

The African wild dog is an endangered large carnivore with a global population of fewer than 700 packs (fewer than 7000 individuals) dotted across the African continent in isolated subpopulations. They typically raise their pups in the cooler months each year. However, our new study shows that they are adapting to warming temperatures by giving birth later each year as they track a shrinking cool period.

By following the fates of 60 packs of African wild dogs in Botswana’s Okavango delta – the largest remaining subpopulation of the species – we learned that the average birthing date now occurs more than three weeks later than it did three decades ago. This shift almost perfectly tracked an average daily temperature increase of 1.6°C over that same period.

On the face of it, our finding that wild dogs are keeping pace with the rate of warming suggests there is no cause for alarm. Pups born in cooler months are more likely to survive, so isn’t this just an effective strategy to cope with a changing climate? Unfortunately not.

As the cooler period of the year is also getting shorter, the net effect of tracking these temperature shifts is that wild dogs are now inadvertently rearing their pups in warmer temperatures.

This is a problem because we’ve also shown previously that higher temperatures following birth affect pup survival rates in Kenya, and our new study shows the same in Botswana.

Read the full article in The Conversation.

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