The Purple Sea Urchin And Tawny Owl: Animal Species That May Survive The Climate Change Thanks To Evolution

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Evolution is the process by which organisms change over time as a result of changes in heritable physical or behavioural traits. These changes allow an organism to adapt better to its environment and will help it survive and have more offspring (Than 2018).

The theory of evolution links to Charles Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection. Natural selection is based off of beneficial mutations because some mutations allow organisms to have beneficial characteristics which help them survive and outcompete other organisms. A mutation is a change in the DNA sequence due to an error during DNA replication, usually due to mutagens ( 2016). Those with beneficial mutations survive and other organisms who don’t have these mutations die out. Eventually whole species have these mutations that’ve passed down and evolution would have occurred. Climate change is a wide range of global phenomenon which occurs due to an enhanced greenhouse effect. Climate change is therefore altering the climate that many organisms are used to, these organisms are then forced to adapt faster to the changing climate in order to survive however some may not be fit enough to do so.

Natural Selection is a mechanism causing evolution and individuals that are best adapted to the environment will leave the most offspring to pass on genes. Natural Selection is caused by a mutation in the gametes of parents therefore it can be passed to offspring. By looking at species such as Tawny Owls and Purple Sea Urchins it may be determined whether or not organisms will be able to evolve quickly enough to outpace climate change. Tawny Owls (Strix aluco) are found in Finland and can be either brown or pale grey. Finland has a cold climate and when it snows, the pale grey owls are able to blend in with the snow and camouflage from predators. Due to climate change the Earth’s temperatures are on the rise as an effect of global warming from the enhanced greenhouse effect therefore there has been warmer winters over the past 50 years in Finland.

More snow is melting which leaves the grey owls to be easily noticed by predators and the brown owls are now camouflaging with the brown branches of the trees in the forest. This allows for more brown Tawny Owls to pass on their genes with the brown feather trait whereas in the past, more pale grey owls were creating more offspring that had pale grey feathers. Up until this point there has been no evolutionary change due to selection pressures from climate change in any wildlife populations (Hullinger 2015). This supports the idea that natural selection, which is a mechanism of evolutionary change, enables animals to quickly adapt to survive through climate change. In this case, brown Tawny Owls were able to adapt and survive climate change.

When it comes to Tawny Owls, a mutation has caused some owls to have brown feathers rather than grey. Before climate change, this mutation was seen as harmful since it enabled the brown owls to be easily spotted by predators. But since more snow is melting and more tree branches are exposed, brown owls are easily camouflaged while grey owls are being easily spotted. The mutation that causes more brown feathers would now be considered to be beneficial since it enables the survival of the brown Tawny Owls. In this case the Tawny Owl has adapted to climate change through natural selection due to a mutation. They will probably outpace climate change and not become extinct. Through natural selection other animals may be able to adapt through natural selection like Tawny Owls have in order to outpace climate change-driven extinction.

The Purple Sea Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) is another animal that appears to have the ability to the harsh conditions caused by climate change. Climate change is having a drastic effect on oceans (Wheeling 2018). Temperatures are rising and the acidity is increasing which is negatively impacting sea creatures. The Purple Sea Urchin has been involved in a study conducted by the University of California which may show that some animals are becoming resilient to certain climate change-induced effects. Transgenerational Plasticity is when parents’ experiences influence the characteristics of their offspring. Even though their experience won’t influence the genes that are passed on, research shows that through epigenetic change certain genes are expressed. Adult Purple Sea Urchins were taken from Goleta Coast in California and placed in two tanks of different conditions. One seawater tank had a normal pH and the other seawater tank had a lower pH to resemble acidic ocean conditions. After four and a half months, the females spawned and the eggs were collected and fertilised with the sperm of a male sea urchin placed in non-stressful conditions. The young urchins were raised in either low or normal pH conditions. The results were that the offspring of the mothers placed in acidic conditions were larger and better suited to survive harsh conditions as well. These offspring down-regulated in genes that spent more energy on processes such breaking down of proteins and up-regulated the genes that allowed them to control their internal pH (Wheeling 2018). This study was conducted at the University of California which shows that the results are credible. The results show that parents are able to positively influence their offspring’s chance at surviving rapidly changing conditions, like pH changes due to climate change. If Purple Sea Urchins are able to do this, other sea creatures may be able to do the same.

A change in DNA is known as a mutation. The female sea urchins that were placed in acidic conditions adapted to the low pH. Their offspring had these same attributes and since changes in somatic cells can’t be passed down, its accurate to say that there was a change in the DNA of the mothers’ gametes. A change in DNA is known as a mutation. Purple Sea Urchins in the acidic seawater needed to up-regulate their internal pH functioning and a mutation that was passed down to them, allowed for this to occur. This mutation has allowed them to survive in the more acidic oceans that currently exist.

This mutation has been evidently passed down to their offspring who are also able to survive in acidic conditions. Mutations can be beneficial, harmful or neutral and in this case the sea urchins who had the mutation to be able to up-regulate their internal pH functioning and down-regulate other energy spent on other cellular processes survived the acidic ocean caused by climate change. Purple Sea Urchins have adapted to climate change and are showing that they can outpace it. Other sea animals such as fish and coral will also be threatened due to increased ocean temperatures and decreased pH levels in the ocean. But due to this example of sea urchins adapting, their bodies may start to adapt to these changing conditions so that they don’t become extinct.

Climate change is having a drastic effect on all continents and oceans of the world. In Australia, ecosystems are at risk due to a hotter climate that’s more prone to drought (Bennett et al. 2013). According to The Climate Reality Project in 2019, Australia’s temperatures are on the rise and their climate is expected to rise by 5 degrees Celsius by 2090. There is also a connection between hotter climate and increased droughts (King 2019). The Eucalyptus species, like any other plant, has specific thermal and moisture conditions in order to thrive. According to an extensive study conducted by Nathalie Butt, Laura Pollock and Clive McAlpine in 2013, due to more frequent droughts in Australia’s inland and increasing lack of rainfall and humidity, there will be increased environmental stresses placed on the Eucalyptus species.

The lack of suitable climate space and environmental stresses will ultimately lead to decreased numbers within the species. According to Farzin Shabani, Lalit Kumar and Mohsen Ahmadi, who wrote an article in 2017 on Eucalyptus sideroxylon and E. albens, say that due to climate change these plants will be at risk to great habitat loss by 2050. Even if these organisms were to adapt to the climate, their habitat may be destroyed due to the extreme weather conditions. However, the widespread Eucalypt species is likely to adapt to climate change to an extent due to apparent evidence of climate resilience (Byrne, Prober, McLean, Steane, Stock, Potts, Vaillancourt 2013).

A study was conducted by the authors of this article and they examined the Eucalypt species and characterised their responses with regards to functional traits relevant to climate change adaptations. E. salubris showed evidence of efficient water usage in light of the limited available precipitation. E. salubris revealed two distinct lineages which shows that through genetic variation, spatial partitioning has occurred. This is evidence of a mechanism of evolution which has been triggered due to climate change. The Eucalypt species is hence showing evidence of evolution due to climate change. However, since it’s predicted that there will be severe habitat loss for these plants in only 30 years, they may not have the chance to evolve quickly enough to adapt to outpace climate change. Other plants, and also animals, face this problem too. They may show evidence of adaptations to climate change, but due to habitat loss driven by climate change, they won’t have the chance to evolve and survive extinction.

Genes are the basis for all of these adaptations and mutations and an important concept which is a mechanisms of evolution is gene flow. Gene flow is essentially migration and is the movement off individuals together with their genetic material to another location. Gene flow can be a source of genetic variation, for example, if seeds from a plant is dispersed through the wind or another carrier. It increases chances of survival and allows for a species to survive harsh conditions. The Eucalypt species is a good example to use as they are experiencing harsh climate changes. Seed dispersal will allow the transfer of genetic material to another location that is less at risk for habitat destruction thus increasing chances of outpacing climate change. Genetic drift is another mechanism of evolution however it doesn’t contribute to any adaptations organisms may have. It’s based on the idea that some individuals will naturally leave more descendants than others. This means that certain species have a better chance of surviving climate change since there are simply more of them. The more offspring there are, there is an increased chance of genetic variation and hence beneficial mutations may occur to assist these organisms in outpacing climate change.

In conclusion it is evident that some animals have a good chance of outpacing extinction. The Purple Sea Urchin has adapted to acidic seawater and passed this ability on to their offspring. A mutation has allowed for this to occur and since acidic oceans are a result of climate change, it’s evident that this sea urchin has gained the ability to outpace climate change through adaptations and mutations.

Other sea life may similarly adapt to acidic conditions through regulating their internal pH like the Purple Sea Urchin. Tawny Owls have outpaced climate change through natural selection and this supports the idea that animals have the ability to avoid extinction through various mechanisms of evolution. The widespread Eucalyptus species has shown evidence of spatial partitioning and adapting to climate changes. This enables them to survive better and thrive under harsh conditions however some factors such as habitat loss are out of their control. They show evidence of evolution which has helped the use water more efficiently, however this may not be enough to prevent their extinction

Like many other organisms, habitat loss or evolution of the landscape due to climate change, is the ultimate deciding factor of survival. Animals may have a better chance since they are able to physically relocate but plants don’t have this advantage. Plants, such as the Eucalypt species, may have a better chance through gene flow as they can disperse their seeds further away. Genetic drift provides all organisms with better chances of survival therefore it’s accurate to say that some plants and animals will evolve quickly enough to adapt to outpace climate change.

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