Fit for Survival

Environmental Changes:
Who's Fit to Survive?

Human Behaviors
The more intelligent a species is, the faster an individual can make behavioral changes that help it (and its offspring) survive. Our hefty human brains, for instance, can respond quickly by creating technology to solve problems that environmental changes bring. Consider space suits, heating and cooling technology, and sun screen. But do we always use our brains to anticipate or respond to problems? Ponder that one!

If a habitat or ecosystem changes dramatically — through drought, flood, or human activity, for instance — individuals can't necessarily quickly adapt to new conditions. For instance, people destroy habitats by clearing trees, breaking them up with buildings, or polluting them. Some animals are able to move to new locations or survive in the new conditions, but other species are put at risk or eliminated altogether.

Species are called generalists if they are adaptable to many kinds of habitats and food sources. If, on the other hand, they have very specific habitat and food requirements, they are known as specialists. Why do you think the endangered species list includes many specialists and hardly any generalists? This latter group is at greater risk if their limited food source or habitat disappears. (For example, monarchs have very specific habitat needs in their wintering grounds.)

As you explore Journey North species, think about where each might fit into this scheme, and what the implications might be.