Animals around the world are adapting to the impacts of climate change on their habitats. They use longer growing seasons, move their habitats to higher or more poleward areas or shift the production of offspring over the course of the year.
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In their territories in southern Africa, the social animals are among the most successful hunters. But warming is also a challenge for top predators. Pup mortality is high in hot weather, so packs are under-reinforced.
A research team from the University of Washington and the Botswana Predator Conservation organization analyzed field observation data from sixty packs in northern Botswana for more than thirty years. As the researchers report in the specialist magazine “PNAS”, the animals have postponed their birth time by an average of 22 days later in the year.
The puppies are born in the middle of the year at the coolest time. However, the team found that fewer hatchlings survived the vulnerable phase of their lives up to three months after birth, which they spend in and around a burrow. It is possible that the adult animals hunt less when it is hot.
Temperatures are now getting too high even in the three months after the puppies are born. Average daily maximum temperatures increased by around 1.6 degrees Celsius over the course of the study period. The annual maximum temperatures rose by 3.8 degrees Celsius.
The study shows that African wild dogs may have fallen into a “phenological trap,” says lead author Briana Abrahms. The delay in throwing time brought the animals “from bad to worse” because the survival rate of the puppies fell as a result.
“We were only able to do this study because there is this unique, long-term data set for a large predator, which is very rare,” says Abrahms. “It shows how valuable this type of data is for studying the impact of climate change on ecosystems.”