Anand Pendharkar: Coping with summer
Unlike our cities, fragile flora and fauna has evolved mechanisms to survive harsh climatic conditions
A few days ago, I had a heated debate with an acquaintance, about the increasing impact of climate change and its effect on global biodiversity. I tried to reason with him that living in denial about climate change is not going to safeguard anybody from the wrath and losses caused by natural disasters, such as floods, drought, cyclones and typhoons."
Last week, I wrote about the cyclonic winds and rains that lashed the north-eastern frontier of India and the havoc those floods wreaked in the lives of people. Meanwhile, news channels have already begun flashing the record 48.5°C temperatures on the borders of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. There are reports of bleaching of coral reefs and mass death of fish coming in from the Lakshadweep archipelago and Malvan coast, respectively, due to surface water temperatures exceeding 34°C. Unseasonal outbreak of conjunctivitis, swine flu and measles; repeated incidences of dengue and malaria, and children and the elderly suffering from chronic lung disorders — these too, are outcomes of the changing climate scenario.
If humans suffer from the sweltering weather, I wonder how our fragile flora and fauna copes with the incessant heat and exposure. To ease our heat-related troubles, we humans use air convectors such as fans, coolers or air conditioners, or just stay indoors with our doors and windows shut. Some may even dunk themselves in pools. But what about the evergreen trees, climbers or nesting crows? They constantly loose water through transpiration or respiration. How do these creatures cope with the summer and drought-like conditions?
Most plants shed their leaves and hence, prevent water loss, lying dormant for the summer months. Most tropical trees blossom from January to May and their seeds get baked and dried for four to five months. With the onset of rain, even the hardest seed coat absorbs water due to its dryness and results in the emergence of new saplings.
In the early spring-summer days, when there is dew formation and occasional cold nights, ectothermic animals such as reptiles (lizards and snakes) and insects (butterflies, bees and wasps), acquire heat energy from the sun, which is necessary to forage and mate. Many fish, frogs and toads bury themselves deep under the river or lake beds and aestivate to avoid direct exposure.
All insectivorous and carnivorous animals such as bats, snakes, civets, mongoose, jackals, wasps and even leopards, who consume a high-protein diet, need to first visit a water-body and drink enough clean water before heading off to forage/hunt. And, our urban swimming pools, cascades, leaking pipelines and cattle moats tend to work just fine for them. But, due to the misunderstanding of the purpose of visit, these become sources of conflict, leading to violent reactions by humans.
There are many ways in which our urban animals and plants engage with the environment to survive the summer, and that may need another article. But the true lesson to learn from these creatures is that even though the competition is fierce, there is always sharing of resources, across all creatures.
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