Another Migration Dilemma (or perhaps the key to everlasting life?)

Humans are not the only creatures that are moving around the world . Non-native species can spread through human activity that may either be intentional or unintentional. This becomes increasingly important as travelling around the world becomes cheaper and easier for us, and as we start to live in places that would have previously been inhabitable. So in the event that new species do invade, by knowing more about their tolerance of cold climates, we would be able to predict the areas that would be most vulnerable, and the species that would be most at risk.

Asphalt melting in Deli, India as a result of the 2015 heatwave. Credit Huffington Post

Asphalt melting in Deli, India, during the 2015 heatwave.
Credit Huffington Post

I suppose starting with the obvious question: why should we study and care about cold tolerance in animals at all? The world is just getting warmer, right? Wrong. It is important to remember that climate change does not necessarily mean global warming; it more complex than just hotter summer temperatures and less snow fall in the winter. It is the disturbance of regular regional climate patterns around the world. Hence the floods in regions like California and East Africa, while places like Pradesh and Karachi exceed the previous record highs.

The Day After Tomorrow, anyone? Credit

The Day After Tomorrow, anyone?

So overall, yes, the majority of inhabited places are getting warmer, and if we are to understand and predict how the world will continue to change, we must study all of the changes. Although, if you are interested, this YouTube video that details a scientific proposal suggesting that the Earth may experience a “mini ice age” within the next 15 years.

Which brings us to the invasive species. Non-native species may migrate to new ecosystems, where they have no natural predators to control their populations, and they end up out-competing the natural species which can lead to a decrease in the species diversity in an ecosystem. You can also check out this fun video by the ESA for a broader summary of the dangers of invasive species, with cheesy 20s piano music to accompany.

The effects of invasive species. Credit Viking Alligator

Invading species.
Credit Viking Alligator

So trying to predict the movements is obviously a priority for many scientists because it allows them to mitigate any damage that may result. Or to use the words of my Year 7 teacher, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” Although in this case it is less about a failing History grade, and more about preventing the breakdown of entire ecosystems.

One example of a terrestrial invasive species that many British Columbians are already familiar with is the Pine Beetle which ravages pine trees (who would have guessed?). Their numbers would usually be culled by chilly winter temperatures, but fewer are dying off as parts of BC remain warmer during the winter. By knowing the point at which they die, scientists can predict how far north they may start to move.

In our lab, we observed the cold tolerance of both marine and terrestrial isopods. Now this is not to say that either one of them is currently an invasive species (we mainly looked at ones native to British Columbia), but it is still important to look at because it would allow us to extrapolate the extent to which they could invade new territories, or perhaps apply the results to similar species or organisms that may be invasive. We found that the marine species typically had a greater tolerance for cold temperatures than their terrestrial counterparts.

To learn more about invasive species and the possible impact they may have on areas near you, you can follow this link to the Natural Geographic website. They also regularly update their page on their ongoing expeditions, found here.

And out of interest, Tardigrades, which are some of the hardiest organisms on Earth, have been to space with no protection of any kind, AND SURVIVED! Take that cryonics! Credit Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution Unit

Tardigrades can withstand some of the most extreme temperatures, and have even been to space without protection, AND SURVIVED. Take that cryonics!
Credit Bioinformatics and Molecular Evolution Unit

And if any of this still fails to captivate, and you are mostly just in it for the immortality, scientists at ALCOR have some ongoing research on how the supercooling properties of invertebrates may be applied to the science of cryonics. Although it is important to note that cryonics is currently banned in Canada, so I would suggest moving if before you start making any concrete plans.


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