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Environment

July 09, 2020 - The Conversation

How animals are coping with the global 'weirding' of the Earth’s seasons

How animals are coping with the global 'weirding' of the Earth’s seasons
Marmot, up closeFile Photo / © Photabulous

The UK’s weather did a somersault in the first half of 2020, as the wettest February on record gave way to the sunniest spring. Climate change has warped the environmental conditions that might be considered normal, creating progressively weirder seasons that cause havoc for society. Longer, drier summers increase the risk of crop failure and fires, floods engulf homes, and less winter snowfall and earlier thaws threaten freshwater supplies.

But how do animals cope? Many species have evolved life cycles and strategies for coping with the seasons over millions of years, particularly those in temperate to arctic and alpine environments. Here, seasonal variability is large and predictable. Short and mild summers produce bursts of vegetation and food, the perfect time to give birth to young that can forage to develop their fitness. Long, harsh winters when food is scarce have shaped animals to largely depend on fat reserves for energy, and in extreme cases, to hibernate or migrate.

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“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trials 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men.
Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.
Captain G. M. Gilbert
American Military, Chief Psychologist, Nuremberg trials

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