Skinny hedgehogs, disturbed mountain birds…These animals that bear the brunt of a spring that is too hot and too dry

“They come from everywhere, sometimes in skeleton form, it’s a disaster!” For fifteen years, Sara Stahl has taken in injured or sick hedgehogs in the care center she created in the Paris region, Les P’tits Kipik. For the past few months, she has seen a number of weakened, dehydrated or malnourished hedgehogs flocking to her center, reported by individuals. The winters have become too mild and they no longer allow hedgehogs to hibernate, while the summers have become too hot, she explains. As they have not been able to hibernate, or in good conditions, they exhaust themselves all winter looking for food, while the reproduction cycle of the insects on which they feed stops.

The winter was mild, and the spring even more so. May 2022 was the hottest month ever recorded in France, with temperatures more than 3°C higher than seasonal norms. During the third week of May, the national average temperature did not drop below 20°C, unheard of. May 2022 was also one of the driest, with a rainfall deficit that reached the records of 1976, 1989 and 2011, forcing small mammals to travel several kilometers to hydrate.

Other species suffer from this lack of water, such as bees, squirrels or birds. The League for the Protection of Birds (LPO) thus alerted, in May: “Small wildlife suffers from lack of water and drought”. And she encouraged individuals to place a container filled with water “in an open place” to allow birds, but also hedgehogs, squirrels or bees to “to quench your thirst in complete safety”.

In Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, drought hits all the departments of the region, and some animals change their behavior. Thus, wild boars were observed on the beach of Pampelonne, in the peninsula of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, shortly before the Ascension weekend. “The wild boar is an omnivorous animal, relief Eric Hansen, director of the French Office for Biodiversity (OFB) for PACA and Corsica, if he cannot find food on his territory, he will be attracted by the garbage cans in the cities.” He continues: “C.It has already happened that wild boars pierce agricultural irrigation tubes to find water when it runs out in their place of life.”

Global warming is having an increasingly marked effect on species. Among them, icons in spite of themselves, like the polar bear at the North Pole, or the penguins at the South Pole, which need pack ice and ice to survive. And in our latitudes, mountain species, which need coolness to live. “The higher the temperature, the more these species must climb in altitude, Explain the ecologist Florian Kirchner, in charge of the Species programs at the French committee of theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature (UIC)N), one of the main non-governmental organizations worldwide devoted to nature conservation. Due to the conical nature of the mountains, the higher the animals go, the less space they have and the greater the competition between them since the resources are limited there.

In the Alps, for example, researchers from Grenoble have shown that animals and plants had migrated to altitude in just a few decades: the lowest limit at which species were observed is now higher than it wasn’t before. Some low-altitude species are no longer found there and have had to take refuge higher up. “It’s only been twenty or thirty years that we see the first unfortunate effects of the increase in temperatures caused by human activity, continues the ecologist. The phenomenon is accelerating, and this acceleration is part of a very short frame on the scale of geological time.

“As there will be no food resources for everyone, species will disappear.”

Florian Kirchner

at franceinfo

A species has two possible responses to climate change: adapt or migrate. Adaptation by natural selection will not be possible for the majority of species, since this phenomenon takes place over a very long time, of the order of a century or a millennium. However, climate change is galloping at such a speed that the progeny of animals will not have time to adapt, the vast majority of them. Unable to adapt, species must migrate. But migrating is only possible for those that are highly mobile, such as birds, for example, or mammals with great dispersal abilities. For small animals, such as lizards or small birds, migration is difficult, if not impossible. Those who can migrate will have to find favorable habitats elsewhere, and will find themselves in competition with other animals to share the resources they can find there.

In addition to this race for resources, certain species are faced with other difficulties due to climate change. This is the case, for example, of the rock ptarmigan, a high-altitude bird whose plumage changes with the seasons: gray and brown in summer, and entirely white in winter. “The ptarmigan is a bird whose plumage is mimetic, explains Florian Kirchner. That is to say that it helps him to blend in with his environment: in the gray of the rock in summer, and in snow-covered surfaces in winter. The problem is that its plumage changes with the seasons, depending on the length of day and night, always at the same time. However, in recent years, the snow cover has been arriving later and later. The ptarmigan is then no longer synchronized with its environment: the bird finds itself with white plumage, while the snow has not yet fallen, and becomes vulnerable to predators, such as foxes, weasels, eagles royal, peregrine falcon or eagle owl.

Could certain species, on the contrary, benefit from climate change? “They exist, but overall there will be many more losers than winners, warns Florian Kirchner. The few rare species which will be able to take advantage of global warming to extend their range are the so-called ubiquitous species, that is to say which can easily adapt to a new habitat. Like, for example, the tiger mosquito, a tropical species now present on two thirds of French territory and which seems to like it perfectly.

“Let’s face it, species will disappear in the coming years and the rate of extinction is accelerating. And when a species disappears, it is lost forever.”

Florian Kirchner

at franceinfo

Some species will adapt, however: in a study published Wednesday, May 25 in the scientific journal Sciencescientists from the Australian National University in Canberra establish that of the 19 populations of wild birds and mammals they have studied, their evolution has been on average two to four times faster in recent decades than what their models foreshadowed.

“It’s not too late to act, continues Florian Kirchner. The sooner we act, the more we will succeed in preserving species in the future: this is the challenge for us, nature protection associations or scientists. There is an urgent need to preserve all the natural environments that surround us to give species the best chance of coping, on the one hand, and to fight in a determined way against climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions tight.”

Each on their own scale: Sara Stahl, in her care center, continues to treat dehydrated hedgehogs. “Before, we mainly collected hedgehogs injured by lawn mowers, sighs Sara Stahl. There, they arrive weakened, almost dead. It gets worse every year and I’m afraid it will get worse and worse.”

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