INterdisciplinary CLimate INvestigation cEnter

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Impacts of climate/environmental change on the fauna: an integrative approach

An unequivocal pattern that involves both natural and anthropic causes, is the global, yet heterogeneous, change in the climate of Earth. This trend, paralleled by other anthropic environmental changes, is expected to cause pervasive effects on the fauna. However, the nature, span and final consequences of climate change must differ among taxa, even among related species, because of the vast diversity in natural history, physiological traits and ecological associations. Understanding the differential effects of climate change on animal species is one of the many urgent and interdisciplinary challenges faced by contemporary science, and enhancing this understanding is the main goal of this project. We propose an integrative approach that emphasizes disciplinary convergences, particularly centered on the emerging discipline known as conservation physiology. A main tenet in our approach is that populations exposed to environmental change may crash when most individuals reduce reproductive output, therefore leading to population declines. Some mechanisms of reduced reproductive output include deterioration of health possibly with reduced lifespan, decreased ecological performance, and inhibition of reproductive behaviors. In turn, these organismal symptoms have underlying basis that often can be tracked to physiological dysfunction, preventing the maintenance of proper internal equilibrium through time. However, the effects of environmental change on animal species cannot be assessed from the type, magnitude or time scale of the perturbation, but from the impact of the perturbation on physiological state. As a consequence, the same pattern of environmental change may be deleterious for some taxa and innocuous, or even beneficial, to another. The general question addressed in this project is how and why physical variables related to climate, and the interaction between climate and other sources of anthropic environmental change, affect physiological function and ecological performance in animal species. We also ask what are the scope and mechanisms of physiological adjustment to climate change, how life history traits are affected by climate, what are the energetic costs and trade-offs imposed on animals by climate shifts, and how the general climatic conditions of biomes have affected resilience to climate change in animal species. These general questions will be tackled on a variety of research approaches on various systematic groups, considering adequacy for research, representation of physiological and ecological diversity along the study, specific conservation needs, need of basic data and special concerns regarding economic interests.