Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The future looks bright! (for spiders and plants)

So I have written previously about reasons for people to become personally involved with combating global climate change. The worlds coca crops, for instance, are threatened by the changing climate in the narrow band near the equator where it grows. But with 2012 coming to a close, and humanity still prioritizing trips to the mall over environmental stewardship, we are crossing the threshold some predict will lead to irreversible climate change.

But it might not be all bad. There are several species that might seriously benefit from the direction the climate is trending in. Arthropods for instance, who depend heavily on ambient temperatures for homeostasis, would seriously benefit from a warmer average climate. A recent study shows that spiders that live in warmer "urban heat island" cities tend to grow larger and can generate more body fat over their rural cousins.

Much of the kingdom of Plantae will also benefit from the increased carbon dioxide we are dumping into the atmosphere. When we burn fossil fuels, we are merely shifting the climate back to the conditions that were present on earth during the Paleozoic era when most of the biomass that fossil fuels are composed of was buried. Massive tree ferns and other mega-flora will surely dominate the post human landscape.

This may lead to significant changes in diet for us as well. Most animals we raise for food are adapted to surviving in a very different climate than the one we are influencing. It is more than probable that, in the future we are creating, our ancestors will be carving up a three foot millipede rather than a turkey for thanksgiving. If they can compete with larger, much more successful reptiles who wont be wasting energy creating their own body heat.

The bad news for us; however, is that mammals are not particularly well adapted to these conditions. The earliest mammals didn't even evolve until almost 50 million years after the carboniferous period ended and the earth started cooling down. Even then we were tiny creatures, relegated to nocturnal or secretive lifestyles. We didn't become competitive in the cordata phylum until after the cataclysmic end of the Cretaceous and the long trend of cooling that followed.

But our future is not planned. We are adaptable and resilient as a species in general. I am sure we will get used to giant spider ranches instead of cattle and consider our selves lucky when we feed a family of four from a single giant carrot instead of the hassle of washing and preparing dozens at a time. Who knows, maybe our distant ancestors will thank us for forcing them to grow up learning to ride giant dragon flies while hunting massive lizards.

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