A study published Tuesday in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution found that birds and mice are experiencing changes in their beaks and ears that researchers attribute to rising global temperatures.

green parrots in Brazil
Credit: Holger Leue / Getty Images

A new study reports that climate change could be altering animals' bodies. 

USA Today reports that a team of researchers led by Sara Ryding of Deakin University in Australia published a study Tuesday in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution that provides evidence that warm-blooded animals are undergoing changes to their beaks, legs, and ears as a result of the warming climate

Researchers used Allen's Rule—which states that animals in colder climates have shorter limbs and appendages than animals living in warmer climates—to measure the changes. 

"This implicates the increased frequency of extreme climate events in causing morphological shifts, in addition to the general rise in temperature associated with climate change," the study states. "It is noteworthy that the examples given here range across broad geographic areas, from the Arctic to tropical regions of Australia."

The study recorded the largest change in birds from Australia and North America, noting an average increase of 4% to 10% in bill surface area in Australian parrots since 1871. In North America, researchers found that the dark-eyed junco bird species also experienced an increase in bill size. 

As for other species, wood mice were found to have larger ears, and bats had grown larger wings. As temperatures rise, animals must find ways to cool down. While birds regulate body temperature through their beaks, mammals can do so through their ears, per USA Today

Ryding, the researcher who led the study, warned that not all animals would adapt to steadily increasing temperatures across the globe. 

"A lot of the time, when climate change is discussed in mainstream media, people are asking 'Can humans overcome this?' or 'What technology can solve this?' " Ryding said. 

"It's high time we recognized that animals also have to adapt to these changes, but this is occurring over a far shorter timescale than would have occurred through most of evolutionary time," she continued. "The climate change that we have created is heaping a whole lot of pressure on them, and while some species will adapt, others will not."

She added, "We might end up with a live-action Dumbo in the not-so-distant future." 

Although the researchers noticed animals adapting to the changing climate, Ryding cautioned that their changing bodies do not mean "all is 'fine.' "

"It just means they are evolving to survive it," she explained. "We're not sure what the other ecological consequences of these changes are, or indeed that all species are capable of changing and surviving."

The study published by Ryding's team notes that different species—not just birds—are also affected by the shape-shifting phenomenon. 

"Previous studies have shown cases where shape-shifting is happening, but these have focused on individual species or groups. Our review paper combines all of these to show how widespread this phenomenon seems to be," Ryding told CNN


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