Question corner | How do animals adapt when seasons change?

Updated - September 27, 2020 07:31 am IST

Published - September 26, 2020 09:04 pm IST

Shepherd herds a flock of sheep on a snow-covered mountain ridge in Pahalgam south kashmir 100 kms away from Srinagar.

Shepherd herds a flock of sheep on a snow-covered mountain ridge in Pahalgam south kashmir 100 kms away from Srinagar.

Adapting to seasonal changes is crucial for survival, and many animals migrate, grow a winter coat or adjust their body temperatures to cope up. Recently, researchers from Universities of Edinburgh and Manchester found a biological switch that may be playing a major role. The study ( Nature Communications, August 2020) shows how the brains of mammals respond to changes in day lengths. The researchers studied sheep brain tissue across time to understand the activity of different genes. They point to a gene known as BMAL2, which helps in synchronising their rhythms of life to the seasonal habitats. This gene has also been reported in birds and reptiles.

According to the researchers, the results constitute a blueprint for circadian-based seasonal timekeeping in vertebrates. Explaining the work, Prof. Andrew Loudon from the Centre for Biological Timing at the University of Manchester, who led the team that studied how sheep adapts to seasonal changes, said in a release: “The genetic ‘flip-flop’ timer we have identified is key to functions such as fertility as sheep transition between winter and summer. We speculate that this genetic timer is likely to be fundamental to yearly changes in many species.”

Prof. Simone Meddle from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, who was one of the researchers involved in the study, added: “Fluctuations in hormones and behaviour are part of a delicate biological orchestra that is crucial to life. Many animals depend on seasonal changes in their biology to survive and our findings are a crucial part of the puzzle to understand the underlying processes.”

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