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.
But as species come to inhabit seasons that no longer resemble those they evolved in, their chances of survival are governed less by their own careful adaptations, and more by the capricious weather. For species eking out an existence in seasonal climates, winter and summer produce distinct challenges of their own. MORE
Header image: Line Cordes, Author provided.