As global climate change progresses, the occurrence of potentially disruptive climatic events such as storms are increasing in frequency, duration and intensity resulting in higher mortality and reduced reproductive success. What constitutes an extreme climatic event? First we point out that extreme climatic events in biological contexts can occur in any environment. Focusing on field and laboratory data on wild birds we propose a mechanistic approach to defining and investigating what extreme climatic events are and how animals cope with them at physiological and behavioural levels. The life cycle of birds is made up of life-history stages such as migration, breeding and moult that evolved to match a range of environmental conditions an individual might expect during the year. When environmental conditions deteriorate and deviate from the expected range then the individual must trigger coping mechanisms (emergency life-history stage) that will disrupt the temporal progression of life-history stages, but enhance survival. Using the framework of allostasis, we argue that an extreme climatic event in biological contexts can be defined as when the cumulative resources available to an individual are exceeded by the sum of its energetic costs—a state called allostatic overload. This allostatic overload triggers the emergency life-history stage that temporarily allows the individual to cease regular activities in an attempt to survive extreme conditions. We propose that glucocorticoid hormones play a major role in orchestrating coping mechanisms and are critical for enduring extreme climatic events.
This article is part of the themed issue ‘Behavioural, ecological and evolutionary responses to extreme climatic events’.
One contribution of 14 to a theme issue ‘Behavioural, ecological and evolutionary responses to extreme climatic events’.
- Accepted December 9, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.