Life history responses of meerkats to seasonal changes in extreme environments

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Science  08 Feb 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6427, pp. 631-635
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau5905

Timing matters

How a species responds to rapid climate change is complicated. Paniw et al. used long-term data on the Kalahari meerkat, an arid specialist, to explore how predicted changes might affect population persistence over time. Warming and rainfall changes in one part of the year had a negative impact on survival and persistence, whereas similar changes during another part of the year had the opposite effect. Understanding such variability will be essential as we attempt to understand the broader influence of climate change.

Science, this issue p. 631


Species in extreme habitats increasingly face changes in seasonal climate, but the demographic mechanisms through which these changes affect population persistence remain unknown. We investigated how changes in seasonal rainfall and temperature influence vital rates and viability of an arid environment specialist, the Kalahari meerkat, through effects on body mass. We show that climate change–induced reduction in adult mass in the prebreeding season would decrease fecundity during the breeding season and increase extinction risk, particularly at low population densities. In contrast, a warmer nonbreeding season resulting in increased mass and survival would buffer negative effects of reduced rainfall during the breeding season, ensuring persistence. Because most ecosystems undergo seasonal climate variations, a full understanding of species vulnerability to global change relies on linking seasonal trait and population dynamics.

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