Study: Rising global temperatures could threaten the fertility of male fruit flies... and other species too

·2-min read
Published in Nature Climate Change, the study involved 43 species of fruit fly (Drosophila).

For some time, the scientific community has been studying the effects of global warming and extreme temperatures on the survival of living beings. However, research on temperature tolerance has not typically focused on heat-induced male infertility, according to researchers in the UK.

Predicting and identifying the places on Earth where species are at risk of being lost due to the effects of climate change is of crucial importance when it comes to preserving biodiversity. But while science tends to focus on temperatures that are lethal to living organisms, University of Liverpool ecologists have looked at the temperatures at which organisms could no longer breed.

Published in the journal Nature Climate Change , the study involved 43 species of fruit fly (Drosophila). According to the scientists, the male flies became sterile at about four degrees below their lethal temperature limits -- roughly equivalent to the difference between summer in northern England and the south of France.

The researchers then modeled the phenomenon using temperature predictions for 2060. According to their calculations, more than half of zones with temperatures cool enough to survive will be too hot for the males to remain fertile.

Dr Tom Price, senior researcher from the University of Liverpool, said in a statement: "Our work emphasizes that temperature-driven fertility losses may be a major threat to biodiversity during climate change. We already had reports of fertility losses at high temperature in everything from pigs to ostriches, to fish, flowers, bees, and even humans. Unfortunately, our research suggests they are not isolated cases, and perhaps half of all species will be vulnerable to thermal infertility."

"This piece of work takes biology, at its most fundamental level, and explores it in a well-known and understood laboratory animal, but then takes that crucial extra step of relating it to the real world and the potential impact it may have on global biodiversity," adds Dr Simon Kerley, head of terrestrial ecosystems at the UK Natural Environment Research Council, an NGO specializing in environmental science, which funded the research.

Léa Drouelle